Home modification proposal will benefit everyone

A proposal to help Alaska seniors fix their homes so they can live at home longer is on its way to the legislature. Current state statutes provide a minimum $150,000 property tax exemption for Senior Citizens/Disabled Veterans. If approved by legislators, modifying a home would add an additional $20,000 to the property tax exemption at no cost to the State of Alaska.

The home modifications incentive is a way to motivate older Alaskans who think about adding grab bars, raised toilets or roll-in showers with hand-held showerheads. Often homeowners put off adapting their homes until a crisis occurs. Suddenly they need ramps, stair handrails, night-lights or other modifications just to enter and get around inside their own home. Coping with a family healthcare crisis while working on adapting the home is often difficult. This incentive provides a way to keep elders living in a home adapted for aging-in-place while gradually recovering some of their home modifications costs.

Home modifications are very specific and should not be confused with home maintenance, repairs, remodeling or renovation. For purposes of this property tax incentive, home modifications are defined as adaptions to a home that help prevent falls and make the home more accessible, safer and simplify Activities of Daily Living for individuals and/or their caregivers and service providers. Activities of Daily Living are defined as bathing, dressing, eating, mobility, toileting and transferring. Examples of home modifications include accessible bathrooms, door levers, grab bars, hand-held shower heads, handrails, lighting improvements, raised toilets, ramps, roll-in showers, single-lever faucets, stair/step safety improvements and wider doors.

How it will work

According the proposed legislation, homeowners would provide local assessors offices with paid receipts for their materials and/or labor expenses each year when they file for their existing exemption(s). The total home modifications amount cannot exceed $20,000 for as long as the qualified homeowner lives in the same home.

To receive the home modifications property tax exemption, a homeowner would complete the “Senior Citizen/Disabled Veteran Property Tax Exemption Application” provided by their local assessor or clerk’s office. To file for the additional home modifications exemption they would also complete a form documenting the modifications completed during the past tax year and provide proof of payment for materials and labor.

Calculating the financial impact of the Incentive involves many factors. Mill rates range from 0 to 20 mills around Alaska and the base Senior Citizen/Disabled Veteran Real Property Tax Exemption

varies from $150,000 to $300,000. The number of homeowners who will use the exemption is unknown.

See the box for a formula to figure out what the Senior Home Modifications Property Tax Exemption Incentive would mean for you.

This incentive is a wise investment for older Alaskan homeowners and their communities. The following are some costs and benefits.

Homeowner costs

Taking money, time and energy to complete or supervise home modifications

Spending a maximum of $20,000 while you live in the same home

Documenting and verifying materials and labor expenses

Homeowner benefits

Living longer in your own home

Easing tasks for family and paid caregivers

Lowering the cost of your care after hospitalization

Increasing home safety and reducing life-changing falls

Preparing your home for yourself and future generations

Welcoming family, friends and neighbors regardless of their age or abilities

Community costs

No cost to the State of Alaska

Losing some local property tax revenue

Administering the exemption by local Assessors Offices

Community benefits

Reducing EMT calls, emergency room visits, hospitalizations and intensive care costs that average $80,000 for each Alaska senior who falls

Providing more efficient, cost-effective community-based transportation, home-delivered meals, respite and chore services for elders

Decreasing hospital and healthcare costs by $30,000 per patient for every $3,000 spent on home modifications, as Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing reports

Lowering the number of work-related injuries to caregivers, home healthcare workers and senior service providers

Keeping older residents in familiar communities with homes modified for independent or assisted living and long-term care, especially where no Pioneer Home exists

Increasing the number of homes in a community that are prepared for current and future local residents to age-in-place

Fixin’ to stay

You can support the Senior Home Modifications Property Tax Exemption Incentive by letting your local legislative delegation know that you think keeping seniors in their own homes is a good idea for seniors and for the communities where they live. You can spread the word to your family, friends, neighbors, churches, community groups and senior service providers. This property tax incentive is a sure way to help older Alaskans who are “Fixin’ to stay.”

Try this formula to figure out what the Senior Home Modifications Property Tax Exemption Incentive would mean for you.

A) Current year’s documented annual home modifications expenses $______

B) Mill rate for your home’s property tax ______

C) Mill rate multiplier = .001 per $1,000 assessed value ___.001___

D) Annual property tax exemption (Multiply lines A x B x C) $______

E) Number of years you plan to live in your current home ______

Total Senior Home Modifications Property Tax Exemption Incentive $______

(Multiply lines D x E)

Karla Zervos is a Fairbanks Senior Center Helping Hands Home Modification Program Volunteer founder.

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