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Is It Time for Tax Credits to Help People Age In Place?

Retrofitting homes is expensive, so this analyst thinks tax breaks could help


Survey after survey shows that most Americans over 50 want to age in place — that is, remain in their homes as they get older. Problem is, most of their homes aren’t geared for the reality of senior living. And retrofitting can be expensive. A recent MarketWatch article said widening a doorway can cost $1,700 to $2,500 and making a shower more accessible could run around $10,000.

Is it time to tweak the tax code and create federal tax credits to help people afford the cost of aging in place?

Louis Tenenbaum, one of the nation’s foremost thinkers about aging in place, who’s also a former contractor and the founder of the grassroots advocacy group, HomesRenewed.org,  thinks so.

“Just as it did for the solar industry, a robust tax credit program can recognize a shared interest between homeowners and housing professionals,” says Tenenbaum. Targeted tax credits, he notes, would heighten consumer awareness of the types of products needed to age in place well.

Rebates Could Spur Preventative Remodeling

If greater exposure for aging in place was paired with a significant financial rebate, says Tenenbaum, a larger number of older homeowners might make critical remodeling decisions before changes are actually (or urgently) needed.

Ohio, Virginia and two Maryland counties offer “Livable Home” tax credits for implementing “universal design” elements in homes.

And tax credits could help contractors secure aging-in-place projects, as well as keep them on budget.

There’s state precedent for these types of tax credits.

Ohio, Virginia and two counties in Maryland offer “Livable Home” tax credits. They return as much as $5,000 to builders and homeowners who implement at least three “universal design” elements in a new construction or retrofitted home. A few examples of qualifying features: creating a zero-step entrance into a residence, constructing doorways with 34 inches of clear width and accessible bathroom floor plans.

And the credits are popular. In Virginia, homeowner participation quadrupled over a five-year period.

Pushing for a Lobbying Campaign

Tenenbaum says tax credits are only part of the solution to help older people age in place, though.

“If we use solar as our guide, history tells us that aging-in-place will also need a strong trade group to advocate for consumers, contractors and manufacturers,” he says. “Without such a group, tax credit programs have little chance of state or federal implementation.”

That’s where Homes Renewed comes in. It’s Tenenbaum’s effort to establish a trade group to lobby for government policy, educate consumers and contractors and support manufacturers who often struggle with marketing challenges connected to aging in place.

“The vision for Homes Renewed is clear,” he states. “We need to empower older consumers and families to demand policies that help them purchase products and prepare their homes so they can engage services at the right time, conveniently and affordably. If we can do that, our housing stock will better match our housing needs.”

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