Proposed law would offer tax credit for making homes more accessible

Legislation could benefit seniors and people with disabilities

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published April 27, 2016

Jaren Jai Wicklund/Shutterstock

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METRO DETROIT — If you install a wheelchair ramp, grab bars or even a bathroom on your main floor, you could be on your way to as much as a $5,000 tax credit, depending on whether a bill passed in the state Senate becomes law. 

State Sen. Vincent Gregory, a Democrat representing Senate District 11, and state Rep. Jeremy Moss, a Democrat representing Michigan’s 35th House District, have sponsored legislation to make homes more accessible for older adults and people with disabilities, which has since received bipartisan support. 

Gregory said Senate Bill 395 and House Bill 4719 would create state income tax credits of up to $5,000 for homeowners who purchase or retrofit a home to make it more accessible for the people who live in it, or for people who visit. 

The tax credit, Gregory said, is not just limited to those with a debilitating condition. 

“This applies to seniors, veterans and anybody who needs help,” Gregory said. 

Moss said in a written statement that the legislation would help seniors and those with disabilities stay in their homes and reduce the financial burden of making improvements.

“It is critically important to help our aging population and those with mobility impairments to comfortably stay in their homes,” Moss said in a news release. “In inner-ring suburbs like Southfield and in communities throughout the state, many existing homes weren’t built to accommodate an aging population or those with physical limitations.” 

Gregory worked closely with the Southfield-based Michigan Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society on the bill.

Ruth Linnemann, director of advocacy and programs at the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said the bill could help people stay in their homes.

“Falls have been the major cause of hospitalizations for seniors, so it’s a safety factor that has cost savings,” Linnemann said. “Having an accessible home makes it possible for people to live in their homes longer.”

Ann Cerafin, who is on the Government Relations Committee at the Multiple Sclerosis Society, said she worked with Gregory on the Senate bill. 

Having multiple sclerosis made it difficult to find a house to fit her needs, Cerafin said, so she and her husband spent around $80,000 renovating their house in Ferndale. 

“We decided to put an addition on our home. We had to put grab bars upstairs, because before I was unable to get up and down the stairs due to MS. We had to put extra railings on the stairs,” Cerafin said. “We decided to build the addition, so we have a first-floor bedroom and an extra bathroom. We put a lift in so I can get into our house.”

If the legislation becomes law, taxpayers could claim a credit for 50 percent of the cost specified for accessibility and visitability modifications, or 4 percent of the purchase price of a home that complies with accessibility or visitability standards, up to the $5,000 maximum. The legislation is for tax years after Jan. 1, 2017, and before Jan. 1, 2022.

Senate fiscal analysis of Gregory’s bill, as passed by the Senate, noted that the bill has a total $1 million cap on the amount of credits that the state could grant each year. The Senate analysis said that based on other states’ experiences, Michigan could expect that the average credit would be near the $5,000 limit and 200-250 taxpayers would seek the credit each year. Carry-forward provisions and timing could amount to more or less than $1 million each year, according to the analysis.

“Accessibility,” according to the bill’s language, means that a residence is designed to provide the owner, or a relative living with the owner, with the ability to enter, exit and use the property with or without assistance. The homeowner or relative of the homeowner must have one or more physical limitations in daily life activities, as verified by a physician. 

A residence designed to include at least one zero-step entrance, at least one full or half bathroom on the main floor, and all main-floor doorways having a minimum of 32 inches of clear passage space falls under the “visitability” portion of the bill.

“It’s not just making your home more accessible so you won’t fall and have to go to a hospital and nursing home, it’s making it accessible so you can have someone who is disabled also come visit you,” Cerafin said. “We didn’t run the actual numbers, but just the fact that if you fall and break your hip, you have a really bad problem. Even younger people, they find their lives change completely by a fall.”

The Senate passed Gregory’s bill 35-2 on March 23, and it was referred to the House Committee on Tax Policy the same day. Gregory said he is hopeful that House members will enact the bill before summer recess. 

“We are going to make calls to find out when they will bring it up. We talked to some House members that feel it’s a good bill,” Gregory said. “Most people know somebody who has a disability or an illness where they need this kind of help.”

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