Rights & Money

Senior-Friendly Renovations Made Easier

If you’re planning to renovate a home to make it more suitable for an older person, you may be able to get government money to help ease the burden

By Olev Edur

We all can agree with Dorothy that there’s no place like home: most of us want to stay in our own homes for as long as possible. But when it comes to adapting a home to meet the specialized needs of the elderly or disabled, cost can be an obstacle. This is especially the case for those on fixed incomes, but also for those who provide support and care for an elderly or disabled family member.

Thankfully, most governments have now recognized the importance of helping the elderly or disabled remain in their homes. Thousands of dollars worth of home adaptation/repair grants, low-cost loans, and tax credits are now available from an array of federal, provincial, and even municipal programs, all intended to provide financial relief for those in need.

These programs likely won’t offset all the costs of home adaptation or renovation, but they can take the edge off the resulting bill. In some cases, two or even three different programs can be applied to the same job.

The following is a rundown of the main federal and provincial government programs available in Canada as of press time that are directed at senior homeowners (and in some cases, tenants), but it’s not exhaustive. Some provinces may have further tax credit or grant programs, and some municipalities offer tax deferment and grant or loan programs for senior homeowners. Even some utility companies offer rebate or grant programs, at least when it comes to making a home weatherproof.

Sadly, in a 2019 budget-driven austerity initiative, Manitoba eliminated six of its housing-related programs: the Manitoba Emergency Repair Program for Homeowners (ERPH), the Homeowner Renovation Assistance Program (HRAP), the Residential Adaptations for Disabilities Program (RADP), the Residential Housing Improvement Program (RHIP), the Rooming House Assistance Program (RHAP), and the Shelter Enhancement Program (SEP). The rationale given was that the federal component of the programs’ funding was about to lapse.

Similarly, at press time, no home repair/rehabilitation programs were posted as available on the Ontario government website (the Ontario Renovates 2019 program has lapsed and no sign of renewal has been forthcoming). And no such program is available in the Northwest Territories. Nevertheless, Manitoba, NWT, and Ontario residents still can access federal and possibly municipal programs.

Home Accessibility Tax Credit (HATC)

The federal Home Accessibility Tax Credit (HATC) provides a 15 per cent non-refundable federal tax credit on up to $10,000 yearly in expenditures on projects that “help an individual gain access to or be mobile/functional within the dwelling” or “reduce risks of harm in or around the dwelling.”

HATC translates into a credit of up to $1,500 each year, which can be claimed not only by a “qualifying individual”—a homeowner who is aged 65-plus or disabled—but also by an “eligible individual.” This could be a spouse/common-law partner or, for those aged 65-plus, another relative who is the caregiver/supporter (that is, someone entitled to claim the caregiver or dependant tax credits on his or her return).

Similarly, an eligible home could be owned by either the “qualifying” or “eligible” person. The home itself can be a house, a condominium, or a share in co-op housing, as long as it is in Canada and intended for occupancy by the qualifying person. The $10,000 annual limit applies per person and per eligible property, although more than one person could claim partial credits on a single property.

As for what specific types of project qualify for HATC treatment, beyond the initial safety/accessibility/mobility objectives, the rules require only that the work be “permanent and integral to the eligible dwelling” (a dwelling can include up to a half-hectare of land). This can include, for example, altering the driveway of a resident with a mobility impairment to ease access to a bus, or buying and installing outdoor or indoor ramps if the person can’t use stairs.

Generally, any modification or adaptation that qualifies as a medical expense is allowed under HATC, provided it’s permanent. So if, for example, someone with asthma required an air cleaner/purifier/conditioner for medical reasons, a stand-alone unit would not qualify for HATC, although it would qualify as a medical expense deduction (prescription required).

“It is the CRA’s view that central air conditioners, air purifiers, and air cleaners that are integrated into a furnace/heating system would be eligible expenses for the purpose of the HATC, as these units would be considered a permanent part of an eligible dwelling,” says CRA spokesperson Etienne Biram. “Portable units, however, are not eligible.”

Also not eligible for HATC are routine maintenance and repair costs, the cost of housekeeping, gardening, security monitoring, and other upkeep services, appliances and entertainment devices, and costs incurred mainly to increase property value. Beyond that, the eligibility field is broad and encompasses anything within reason that meets the mobility/functionality/risk-reduction and permanency criteria.

Ultimately, CRA has the final say on whether a particular project qualifies for HATC or not, and you can find out only if you apply. “CRA does not issue advance rulings for home accessibility expenses, as all the facts of a particular claimant’s situation must be considered before determining if they’re eligible,” Biram says. “CRA does issue technical interpretations; they might not extend to all situations, but they can assist taxpayers in determining eligibility.”

Once a project is approved, eligible expenses can include all paid work done by professionals such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and architects; if you do the work yourself, you can claim for material, equipment rentals, planning, and permits, but not your own labour and tools, nor those of relatives (unless they’re registered for GST/HST purposes). If the work is in a co-op or condominium, a signed statement from someone authorized by the board is required, detailing the work and your share of its cost.

Claiming this tax credit is relatively easy. You must complete line 31285 (it’s actually a mini-form) on the Worksheet for the Return, providing basic information about the project—dates, suppliers, materials, descriptions, and amounts—and then transfer the end result onto the corresponding line of your tax return. You don’t need to include supporting documentation with your return, but should of course hold on to all invoices, agreements, receipts, and the like.

Finally, it’s important to note that HATC is not reduced by other assistance, grants, loans, and tax credits that might be forthcoming from federal or provincial/territorial governments. So, returning to the air conditioning example, CRA Guide RC4065, Medical Expenses, states that a person with a severe chronic ailment can claim (under prescription) the lesser of $1,000 or half the price of air conditioning as a medical expense. If the AC system were to be home-integrated, it could also be eligible for a 15 per cent HATC credit—two credits for the price of one. In some cases, provincial and even municipal programs may apply as well.

GST/HST New Housing Rebate

If your intended renovations are very extensive, they may qualify for a GST/HST new housing rebate, which, depending on your province of residence and the value of your property, could amount to several thousand dollars. The operative word in the regulations is “substantial,” however, and in this usage, it comes close to meaning “total.”

Generally, the construction work must be extensive enough that afterwards, your house could be considered new. More specifically, to qualify as a substantial renovation, 90 per cent or more of the interior must be removed or replaced, although according to CRA guidebook RC4028, GST/HST New Housing Rebate, “you do not have to remove or replace the foundation, exterior and interior supporting walls, roof, floors, and staircases to meet the 90 per cent test.” Additions must at least double the current usable floor space to qualify.

The GST/HST rebate is available only for renovations to a house that you (or a relation) own (jointly or otherwise) and that you (or the relation) intend to live in on a permanent basis. “A recreational cottage or an investment property is not a primary place of residence for rebate purposes,” the guidebook states; additionally, the intent to use the house as a primary residence “must be evident at the outset of buying, constructing, or substantially renovating the house.” The fair market value of the house with work completed can be no more than $450,000 for federal rebate purposes (provincial limits vary).

At a five per cent federal rebate rate, a renovation expense of $100,000 translates into a rebate of $5,000. Higher rebates are available for residents of British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Ontario (these provinces are program participants), but other provinces may offer some similar form of tax offset.

You can claim the GST/HST rebate by filing the appropriate federal and (where applicable) provincial rebate schedules, providing details of the work. In Ontario, for example, one would need to file forms GST191 and GST191-WS, plus form RC7191-ON, GST191 Ontario Rebate Schedule, to get both the federal and provincial rebates.

BC Home Renovation Tax Credit for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities

This British Columbia (and New Brunswick—see below) tax credit is meant to assist those aged 65-plus and persons with disabilities—as well as those living with seniors or disabled persons—with the cost of renovations to improve accessibility and/or functionality of their homes. The home must be a principal residence, but it can include non-seasonal mobile homes. If you’re aged 65-plus or you qualify for the disability tax credit, you’re eligible for this credit (see your tax return guide for further details on eligibility).

The maximum credit is $1,000 per tax year, calculated as 10 per cent of the qualifying renovation expense (maximum of $10,000). The credit is “refundable,” meaning that if it is more than the taxes you owe, you’ll receive the difference as a cash refund. The credit can be shared between eligible residents of the home, up to the $1,000 overall limit.

The renovation or alteration must help a senior or a person with a disability in one or more of the following ways:

• Improving access to the home or land

• Improving mobility and functions within the home or land

• Reducing the risk for harm within the home or land

The accompanying table on page 33 gives some idea of the latitude allowed (or disallowed) in project eligibility. To make a claim, you must complete a British Columbia Home Renovation Tax Credit for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities form (Schedule BC(S12)), then enter the amount you spent on eligible renovations in box 60480 on the British Columbia Credits form (BC479).

BC Home Adaptations for Independence (HAFI)

To be eligible for the HAFI program, you must be a British Columbia resident with limited income and assets, and you or someone in your household must have a permanent disability. The adaptations requested “must support accessibility and promote continued safe and independent living.” The program is open to homeowners, and tenants and landlords may be eligible upon joint applications (with some restrictions—see the HAFI website, bchousing.org, or call 1-800-257-7756 for details).

If eligible, you could receive a grant for up to $17,500 (per lifetime and household unit) for eligible adaptations, calculated as 100 per cent of the cost of adaptations up to $15,000, plus 50 per cent of adaptions up to another $5,000. So, for example, a qualifying $18,000 project would garner $16,500 in grant money.

The HAFI website cautions, however, that “funding for this program is limited and completed applications are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.”

Alberta Seniors Home Adaptation and Repair Program (SHARP)

Alberta homeowners aged 65-plus (couples can use either’s age) earning $75,000 or less can apply for a low-interest loan of up to $40,000 secured by their home equity (subject to a minimum of 25 per cent ownership) in order to make home adaptations/repairs such as:

• walk-in tubs;

• furnace and hot water
tank upgrades;

• stairlifts;

• widening of doorways;

• roof and window replacements.

A written cost estimate or receipts for all project funds must be provided for home repairs, adaptations, and renovations completed and paid for within 12 months before the date that SHARP staff receives your application package. Seniors may apply for retroactive funding.

The loan rate at press time in early March was 3.95 per cent simple interest, “simple” in this case meaning that interest is charged only on the original amount of your loan and not on the loan plus interest; the rate is reviewed in April and October. You can choose to repay the loan at any time, but it will automatically become due when you sell or otherwise move on.

If you’re not eligible for a loan and your income is lower than $30,000 for a single or $48,000 for a couple, you may still be eligible for a SHARP grant to help cover some basic and essential repairs. You may not be eligible for a loan if you’re not an owner, have insufficient equity, or are a mobile home owner on rented land.

For additional information on the SHARP grant, go to alberta.ca/sharp-grant.aspx or call Alberta Supports Contact Centre, toll-free, at 1-877-644-9992.

Saskatchewan Home Repair Program – Adaptation for Independence

Saskatchewan homeowners may be eligible for a forgivable home repair/adaptation loan of up $23,000 if they:

• own and occupy the property as their primary residence;

• have a household member with a housing-related disability;

• have no household income nor assets beyond the limits set by Saskatchewan Housing Corporation (SHC).

In early 2020, these income limits ranged from $42,600 to $76,500, depending on family size, and household wealth was limited to $300,000. The Saskatchewan HRP loan is also available for rental property owners who have a low-income tenant with a housing-related disability.

Modifications required must be identified by a qualified health practitioner. Once approval is granted, work must be completed within six months. Repairs completed before getting written approval from SHC don’t qualify.

To apply for this program, you must obtain and complete the appropriate application form and send it, along with any other required documents, either by mail—to Saskatchewan Housing Corporation, 11th Floor, 1920 Broad Street, Regina, SK, S4P 3V6—or by e-mail, to repairstaff@gov.sk.ca.

Quebec Residential Adaptation Assistance Program (RAAP)

RAAP can provide as much as $33,000 in financial assistance to the owners of a dwelling occupied by a person with a disability. The goal is to allow the disabled person to enter and leave his or her home, access “essential” rooms (bathroom, kitchen, bedroom), and perform activities of daily life safely. Applicants must provide a supporting document proving that their disability is significant and persistent.

RAAP is available for tenants as well as homeowners. If you’re a tenant, the owner of your building must agree to have the adaptation work done in your apartment and must fill out the relevant part of the application form.

There are three options for RAAP assistance; program administrators at Société d’habitation du Québec (SHQ) will determine the most appropriate one.

Option 1: Professional support. This option provides from $16,000 to $33,000 in financial assistance, depending on household income and the need to install specialized equipment, among other factors. It includes an assessment of needs by an occupational therapist and an SHQ-certified inspector to oversee planning and design.

To be eligible, the work must adapt the home so that the person can enter and leave independently, access essential rooms, and perform everyday activities. It must be a “simple, functional, safe, and economical solution” and be permanent. Examples include installing an outdoor access ramp, refurbishing a bathroom, and widening door frames. All necessary specialized equipment is included.

Option 2: Self-determined needs and work. This option provides up to $8,000 in assistance and does not include assessments or planning oversight.

Option 3: Retroactive financial assistance. This option provides a reimbursement of 50 per cent of eligible expenses, up to a maximum of $4,000, for work completed during the 12-month period before registration.

To apply for this program, you must obtain a Program Registration form at the nearest local community services centre (CLSC) or from SHQ. Once the form has been completed and sent, along with the required supporting documents, to SHQ, you’ll receive notification of your registration, as well as information on how the program will proceed.

New Brunswick Seniors’ Home Renovation Tax Credit

This credit is in most respects the same as the seniors’ tax credit for British Columbia (see above), albeit available only to those aged 65-plus or to family members living with or preparing to live with the senior member. Qualifying family members include spouse/common-law partners, as well as a couple’s parents, step-parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles, children, stepchildren, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

If you live in New Brunswick and have incurred expenses to modify your home to accommodate the changing needs of a senior (be it yourself or another family member), you may qualify for a home renovation tax credit of up to $1,000, representing 10 per cent of the maximum $10,000 expense claim. As with the BC program, there are no income restrictions.

For further information on the credit and how to claim it, visit the provincial website at www2.gnb.ca or call 1-800-669-7070 toll-free.

Nova Scotia Home Adaptations for Seniors’ Independence (HASI)

The Nova Scotia HASI program can provide a forgivable loan of up to $3,500 (which doesn’t need to be repaid as long as the homeowner agrees to live in the home for a minimum of six months afterwards). The money can be used for permanent adaptations such as:

• handrails in hallways and stairways;

• easy-to-reach work and storage areas in the kitchen;

• lever handles on doors;

• walk-in showers and grab bars;

• bathtub grab bars and seats.

Exceptions can be made for equipment such as bath lifts that help to make accessing basic facilities easier, but aids such as walkers and household appliances aren’t covered.

To qualify, you must be at least 65 years old and an owner and permanent resident of the home that will undergo repair/adaptation, your total household income must be below the established limit (which varies depending on household size and location), and you must experience difficulty with daily activities due to your age.

You have to complete an application for approval before you can receive funding; work completed before approval won’t be covered. Contact Housing Nova Scotia for more details, at 1-844-424-5110 toll-free.

Prince Edward Island Seniors Safe @ Home Program

The Seniors Safe @ Home Program provides cash grants ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the applicant’s income, to PEI homeowners aged 60 or over, or to family members who own a house in which a senior lives, in order to make aging-in-place modifications to their home. The maximum grant amount is available to households with incomes of $35,000 or less, and is reduced by $800 for each successive $3,000 in added income, falling to zero for incomes of $50,000 or higher.

You have to provide proof of income in the form of a CRA Statement of Consent or Notice of Assessment. The home must be a principal residence and the modifications must “relate to your loss of ability as well as ensure your health and safety in your home.”

To find out more about the program, you should obtain a copy of the Seniors Safe @ Home Self Assessment Guide at princeedwardisland.ca, and then complete and deliver the application form, along with two detailed estimates for the cost of the work, to one of the locations listed in the application. For more information, you can phone 902-368-4889 or (toll-free) 1-855-374-7366.

Newfoundland & Labrador Home Modification Program (HMP)

HMP provides forgivable loans of up to $7,500 or repayable loans of up to $10,000 ($13,000 in Labrador) “to assist homeowners with low-to-moderate income who require accessibility changes to their residences, to enable individuals to remain in their own homes for a longer period.”

Persons with accessibility needs may receive the forgivable-type loan. Repairs exceeding the maximum allowable amount may be addressed with the repayable-type loan. Forgivable loans are earned by maintaining ownership and occupancy of the dwelling for five years.

Eligibility is open to Newfoundland and Labrador residents with an annual income of $46,500 or less; an occupational therapist’s report is required, indicating whether modifications are non-urgent or urgent.

At press time, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation (NLHC) was no longer accepting applications for the regular (that is, non-urgent) HMP, as funding for the province’s fiscal year had been fully committed. However, a spokesperson said that a new provincial budget was due in April, presumably renewing the funding for the current fiscal year. Applications would then be accepted again; any unfulfilled applications from the prior year would be reviewed but “likely returned to the applicant.”

Yukon Home Repair Program (HRP)

Although it isn’t geared specifically to seniors or the disabled, HRP provides low-interest loans for Yukon homeowners to repair or upgrade their property (including mobile homes). The home must be your principal residence (second properties such as cottages don’t qualify).

The repairs or upgrades must be intended to “improve energy efficiency, overcrowding, accessibility, or health and safety” and must “improve the overall life of the house for the next 15 years.” The work must also meet HRP guidelines.

Loans are amortized over 15 years in five-year terms at an interest rate of bank prime plus one per cent. The loan maximum is $50,000, or $20,000 if the home is on rented or leased land. Forgivable and subsidized options are available to applicants with low to moderate incomes.

For questions about applying for this loan, e-mail ykhouse@gov.yk.ca, or phone 867-667-5759 or (toll-free in Yukon) 1-800-661-0408, ext. 5759.

Nunavut Senior Citizens’ Home Repair Program (SCHRP)

SCHRP provides assistance to senior (aged 60-plus) municipal Nunavut homeowners who need to repair and/or adapt their homes “in order to ensure their continued safe occupancy, and/or to assist with difficulties they encounter with daily living activities.” The assistance comes in the form of a grant, to a maximum of $15,000 plus freight costs, plus travel expenses where outside skills must be brought in. The grant is forgiven upon completion of the repairs. The home must be a principal residence.

The annual allocation of SCHRP projects for each community is limited, based upon available funding. Eligible SCHRP applicants are therefore point-rated according to SCHRP priority allocation criteria: income levels, health and safety, adaptability, and energy efficiency.

For further information, contact Nunavut Housing Corporation through your Local Housing Organization.

Home Adaptations for Seniors’ Independence (HASI) On-Reserve

Unlike the Nova Scotia HASI program, this federally administered program provides up to $10,000 as a forgivable loan towards home adaptations to help on-reserve seniors keep living independently. A First Nations member living on-reserve may receive the assistance, but the senior household occupant must be 65-plus and household income must be at or below the established community limit.

If the property is on-reserve in northern or remote areas, the maximum amount may be increased by 25 per cent, to a total of $12,500. The loan is forgiven if the senior occupant lives in the home for at least six months after work is completed.

As with HASI in Nova Scotia, eligible work includes minor home adaptations that help the senior live independently, and that are permanent and fixed to the home. Examples include:

• handrails;

• easy-to-reach work and storage areas in the kitchen;

• lever handles on doors;

• walk-in showers with grab bars;

• bathtub grab bars and seats.

In addition, on-reserve homes needing adaptations or repairs to accommodate a disability should be eligible (subject to income) for the Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program for Persons with Disabilities (RRAP-D), which can provide up to $60,000 (plus 25 per cent in northern/remote areas) as a forgivable loan. Eligible modifications include:

• ramps;

• handrails, chairlifts, and bath lifts;

• height adjustments to

• visual cues for doorbells, fire alarms, and smoke detectors.

Not included are therapeutic care, supportive care, and portable aid equipment such as walkers and wheelchairs.

On-reserve homes requiring major repairs may qualify for RRAP Regular, which covers work related to structural, heating, plumbing, and electrical work to ensure the home meets minimum health and safety standards. For more information about these programs, contact a First Nation housing solutions specialist near you; to find one, visit cmhc-schl.gc.ca and search for “Housing Solutions Specialist” or call 1-800-668-2642.

Photos: iStock/apeyron.