Crumbling foundations trending as a campaign issue
The issue of crumbling foundations that trouble thousands of Connecticut homeowners is trending in political circles, but help to those afflicted faces significant obstacles and could be limited.
GOP gubernatorial candidate David Stemerman was the latest to promise to help those who own homes built with concrete containing pyrrhotite, a mineral that expands with moisture and causes foundations to bow and crack.
Visiting a home in Willington with a disintegrating foundation on Monday, Stemerman said he’d press for an independent investigation of who is responsible for the homeowner crisis.
Stemerman also wants to press balky insurers to pay claims from homeowners with damaged foundations, — there may be as many of 35,000 of them in the state — and hold private businesses accountable for the disaster.
“They will share in the financial responsibility to resolve it,” Stemerman’s plan says.
The Greenwich hedge-fund manager’s plan also includes pressing the state and federal government to do more to address the issue.
The state has already acted to help those with crumbling foundations and it looks like the federal government will provide limited immediate relief.
One of Stemerman’s GOP rivals in the governor’s race, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, also visited a home in Willington last week that had a cracking foundation. Boughton said he would push insurers to pay homeowner claims from those suffering from homes containing pyrrhotite.
Connecticut’s Democratic senators have also pressed insurers to pay claims.
But the insurance industry says the type of damage caused by tainted concrete is not covered.
We have enormous sympathy for the homeowners affected by the crumbling foundations problem, but typical homeowner’s insurance is designed to cover sudden, accidental losses, not the slow deterioration of foundations,” the Insurance Association of Connecticut said in a statement.
The insurance industry was able to kill a bill in the state legislature this year that would have held insurers accountable.
But the state legislature did approve a new law that establishes a new Crumbling Foundation Assistance Fund to help distressed homeowners.
The law allows for $100 million in bonding over the next five years to assist victimized homeowners, financed in part by a $12 surcharge on certain homeowner’s policies, effective in January.
Connecticut’s federal lawmakers are also trying to help.
There was optimism that the federal government would come to the rescut of Connecticut homeowners after Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson visited Connecticut, getting a first-hand look at a crumbling foundation, in June.
Now it looks like federal help may be modest.
Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Reps. John Larson, D-1st District and Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, have been able to include provisions in House and Senate spending bills to address the issue.
One would direct the U.S. Geological Survey to create a nationwide map showing where pyrrhotite can be found to protect future homeowners from future faulty construction.
Another would direct the U.S. Treasury to assess the financial impact of the crumbling foundations and outline regulatory and legislative actions to help mitigate that impact.
Congress is not finished work on final fiscal 2019 spending bills. While it’s likely, it’s not guaranteed, the crumbling foundation legislation will be included in those final bills.
“It’s good news that the provisions to assist these homeowners already received broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House,” said Murphy spokeswoman Laura Maloney. “As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Murphy will work hard to make sure the provisions remain in the compromise bill that eventually emerges from negotiations between the House and Senate.”
A third proposal, promoted by Murphy, was rejected by GOP leaders. It would have provided $100 million over five years from HUD to states like Connecticut that have created non-profit crumbling foundation assistance funds to repair damage to residential structures due to pyrrhotite.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency also rejected Gov. Dannel Malloy’s efforts to consider the crumbling foundation crisis a natural disaster that would be eligible for federal disaster relief.
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