As part of the economic stimulus package, the Government of Canada is offering Canadians tax credits for renovations undertaken between January 27, 2009 and February 1, 2010. The guidelines emphasize that to be eligible, alterations “must be of an enduring nature and integral to the dwelling.” Given the speed at which the legislation was drafted, it comes as no surprize that there is no recognition of the vulnerability of our built heritage to short deadlines and sales pressure.
Particularly at risk are original windows. The bill favours broad-based contractors who sell mass-produced elements. These contractors can be in and out in a day. Carpenters who replicate elements using historical techniques will be at a disadvantage when bidding against firms that can guarantee homeowners a twenty-four hour turn-about. Moreover, restoration of heritage elements cannot usually be done in winter. Replacement with vinyl or aluminum windows is now offered after the snow flies.
Heritage Committees (Local Architecture Advisory Committees) can expect to experience pressure from owners of heritage properties who are in a hurry to meet the deadline and get the tax credit. In most Canadian jurisdictions, owners of such properties need municipal approval of alterations before they can engage a contractor. Typically, Heritage Committees only meet once a month and may take several months to sort out the options and make a decision. Rural Committees are at a particular disadvantage in responding to requests as experts and resources are not usually close at hand.
Also disadvantaged will be the tiny cohort of stonemasons, woodcarvers, glaziers who work on heritage projects. These skilled, niche trades have been encouraged by governments in recent years through job training initiatives and the like. It is very doubtful that there are enough workers to complete the summer’s avalanche of jobs. To make the deadline, contracts will be given to non-specialists which under other circumstances would be held until a specialist tradesman were available.
The heritage community like the rest of Canada was taken by surprize by the Home Renovation Tax Credit. It is unfortunate, as an opportunity has been missed to offer owners of important properties an advantage. The legislation could have been written to give owners of designated, heritage properties a longer time frame to complete alterations and still qualify for credit. This would have enabled Heritage Committees and historical restoration specialists to encourage consideration of preservation through appropriate repair, or at least by historical replication. A time extension would have recognized and rewarded the important role of property owners in looking after our built heritage, and would have cost Canada next to nothing.