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Editorial: Seniors, vets, disabled miss out on accessibility tax break

Editorial: Seniors, vets, disabled miss out on accessibility tax break

Benefits of pilot program to expand accessibility of homes would far outweigh costs
Editorial: Seniors, vets, disabled miss out on accessibility tax break
Photographer: Shutterstock

When a proposed pilot program would help improve accessibility to housing for the elderly, disabled and veterans — at a low cost to taxpayers – it seems like that would be something the state would try.

But this is New York, and what’s obvious to most people isn’t always obvious to the people in charge.

The bill, the “Universal Visitability Tax Credit,” would provide a modest tax credit for property owners to retrofit their homes with features such as wheelchair ramps in order to improve accessibility.

Homeowners would be eligible to apply for a credit of up to $2,750 for new homes and up to that amount for 50 percent of the cost of retrofitting an existing home.

One benefit to helping people retrofit their own homes is that it could allow them to stay in them longer, rather than having to move into costly nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

Others in need of permanent housing — including veterans, seniors and the disabled — also would benefit, in that a greater inventory of accessible homes would become available to them and allow them to experience homeownership, rather than force them to stay in apartments, shelters or other facilities.

For property owners, greater accessibility not only makes their homes more accessible, but more salable.

And for communities, the tax credit would help make homes more marketable to a greater base of potential buyers, helping reduce vacancies, boost property values, increase sales and bring in more property taxes from a bigger tax base.

The cost of the pilot program would be limited to $1 million a year, or a maximum of $5 million for the five years of the pilot. That’s enough to fund more than 360 projects, or more than 1,800 over the course of five years.

Yet for the third year in a row, the tax credit will not take effect. While the state Assembly and Senate passed the tax credit easily in multiple years, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has again vetoed it.

While admitting the bill had a “laudable goal,” the governor said in his veto message it would be “extremely difficult” for the state Department of State to administer the credit. That seems highly questionable, given the routine nature of such credits and the relatively small number of eligible projects statewide. 

He also said no appropriation was spelled out in the budget for it. This is a state government that spends $427 million a day, a state in which the Senate last year spent $2 million on new office furniture. But $1 million to help provide housing for seniors, veterans and the disabled has to be specifically allocated or it gets rejected?

This tax credit is one case in New York where the benefits would have far outweighed the costs of the solution.

Instead, three years have been wasted.

We should be surprised. Why aren’t we?

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