Homeowners in eastern Connecticut with crumbling concrete foundations could receive state help to fund costly repairs soon.
The bipartisan budget passed by the state Senate and House last week allows $100 million in bonding over the next five years to assist homeowners with deteriorating foundations, alongside other aid programs.
For years, affected homeowners have clamored for help repairing or replacing foundations that are cracking. The foundations’ decay has been blamed on the presence of a mineral in the concrete aggregate called pyrrhotite, which corrodes when exposed to water. The mineral has been traced to a Willington quarry.
The issue has been “heartbreaking,” Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, said Monday. The bill is a “fantastic step in the right direction” but not the “be all end all,” he added.
“The good news is there’s $20 million a year for remediation,” said Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments. “Obviously, homeowners are impatient and want to get going.”
The grassroots group Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements says on its website that the cost to replace a foundation in the state ranges from $150,000 to $250,000, an amount frequently not covered by insurance companies’ policies. More than 600 homeowners have filed complaints with the Department of Consumer Protection, and some 34,000 houses have been pegged as at risk of damage.
Tony Frassinelli, first selectman of Stafford, said in a news release that the issue is a financial, mental and emotional “nightmare.”
“The ramifications could crush small towns all around the region and could last for 20 years or more,” he said in the release. “This legislation is a first step in helping us and our homeowners.”
Last week’s bill puts $40 million over the next biennium into a Crumbling Foundations Assistance Fund that will be administered by a not-for-profit “captive” insurance company. A captive insurance company typically is wholly owned and controlled by those covered by the insurance. This would minimize the legal risk to the state.
The captive will be overseen by a volunteer board of directors – including homeowners, a representative from the Capitol Region Council of Governments and several non-voting positions held by legislators.
Once appointed, those board members will develop criteria for eligible homeowners, and determine if homeowners who already paid for foundation repairs can receive retroactive help, among other items. Currey said the disbursement of funds for remediation efforts could begin by next summer.
The captive will pay vetted contractors to repair and replace damaged home foundations, but details – including how the contractors’ bills will be split between the state and homeowners – have yet to be ironed out. Currey said some homeowners could be fully compensated, but Wray said he doesn’t think “there’s any anticipation of 100 percent funding from the state.”
“There’s a whole series of questions that need to be resolved” still, Wray said. He listed eligibility criteria , the possibility of guaranteed bank loans and other aid as examples.
Tim Heim, president of the Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements, said he appreciates lawmakers’ efforts, but hopes to see the state fully pick up the tab for impacted homeowners’ repair costs. “The ratio should be 100 percent; no doubt about it,” he said.
Owners can pay to replace shifted shrubbery or mulch, he said, but the government should cover the contractors’ work, the costs to pour new concrete, and should provide help with temporary housing for homeowners undergoing repairs.
“Loans are not an option, in my opinion,” Heim said. “Homeowners shouldn’t be held liable.”
The bill secured other protections for affected homeowners; among them, extending the period of time in which a lawsuit can be filed against the homeowner’s insurance company, and creating a long-desired advocate position in the state’s Department of Housing.
In the past, affected homeowners have filed lawsuits against their insurance companies, and asked the state’s U.S. Attorney to investigate the issue. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy appealed for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but that was denied last year.
Members of the state’s congressional delegation have also tried to get federal assistance for the affected homeowners, most recently by pushing for a tax break that would let homeowners deduct the cost of repairs from their federal taxes.
Congressman Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, whose district contains many of the affected homes, praised the budget’s homeowner assistance programs. “The $40 million initial investment in relief efforts, coupled with other provisions included in the measure, provides a real and tangible launching point to ramp up the response to this problem,” he said, adding that it complements work he has been doing at the federal level.