Enfield – The good news Wednesday night was that at least a dozen of the people waiting to question Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had minimal interest in Connecticut’s intractable budget problems. The bad news: They came to talk about their crumbling basements.
Not everyone made it to the microphone in the gymnasium of Asnuntuck Community College, but Malloy told them he was aware of the problem that has left thousands of homes unmarketable with deteriorating foundations blamed on defective concrete.
“It’s a complicated issue,” Malloy told Walter Zalewa of Willington, a member of the Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements.
The Department of Consumer Protection and the Insurance Department are investigating the source of the problem, as well as the position of insurers that they are not obligated to cover structural defects.
“There’s no help for these people,” Bob Tofolowsky of Stafford told Malloy. “What about the people right now? What do we do?”
Malloy said he understood that some homes were uninhabitable and there was probably someone in the audience who owned one.
The governor was right.
Sandra Miller of Stafford didn’t get a chance to address the governor, but she says she was told on Jan. 6 to vacate the house she purchased in 1991, eight years after its construction. The cracks she noticed the previous fall were evidence of a defect rendering the home uninhabitable.
“What do I do?” she said. “I’m a single mother with two kids.”
Her house has an assessed value of $138,000. She has been quoted a price of about $170,000 to lift her home, then remove and replace its failing concrete foundation.
The suspected source of the problem is pyrrhotite, a mineral that oxidizes over time, weakening concrete. In Canada, pyrrhotite has been blamed for the failure of foundations, dam spillways and other concrete structures.
NBC30, which first disclosed the discovery of crumbling foundations in July, reported that the U.S. Geological Survey says phyrrhotite is present in a Willington quarry that provided stone for the concrete supplier that homeowners say is the common factor in the damaged houses.
There were about 75 homes known to have damaged basements last summer, when NBC aired its report. Now, there are hundreds, if not thousands in northeast Connecticut and two communities in Massachusetts, said Tim Heim of Willington, a founder of the Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements.
Heim and other affected homeowners are finding each other on Facebook and Twitter. Malloy’s public forum at Asnuntuck was publicized on the coalition’s Facebook page.
“Thank God for social media,” Heim said.
Like Miller, Heim has been quoted a price of about $170,000 to repair his home. He is suing his insurer, trying to compel coverage under his homeowner’s policy.
Heim said the damage at his house has been viewed by U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman. He said he is eager for the governor to make the trip.
“He needs to see it,” Heim said. “You’ve got to see this to understand it.”
Tofolowsky told Malloy he and his wife informed state officials about the problems of defective concrete and inadequate insurance coverage 20 years ago, when they were forced to spend $90,000 to raise their home, then remove and replace their foundation.
“The ball got dropped,” he said.
Pending legislation approved on a 10-9 vote two weeks ago by the Insurance and Real Estate Committee and sent to the House might force coverage, but Malloy told homeowners he is trying to bring insurers to the negotiating table.
“I’ve looked at the law on this stuff,” Malloy said. “It’s not necessarily on the side of the claimants, and that’s why I’m trying to have discussions to get people to the table, where we can build a system that gives people a level of relief.”
The governor told the group he’s been hampered by the reluctance of some affected homeowners to register with the state. It is crucial, he said, for the state to know the full extent of the problem.
“We’ve had some of these people come to these meeting and they won’t give their names,” Tofolowsky said.
Heim said later that some owners with crumbling foundations fear that lenders might call in home equity loans or demand mortgage insurance if they conclude the homes are valueless.