A cracking foundation

Washington – Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy on Thursday reintroduced legislation aimed at helping homeowners in Connecticut and Massachusetts who are plagued with crumbling foundations built with tainted concrete.

Blumenthal sponsored the “The Crumbling Foundations Small Business and Homeowners Assistance Act of 2019,” which would establish a grant program through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, to award funding up to $20 million each year for five years to reimburse affected owners of homeowners, small businesses and others for money spent to prevent, repair and mitigate damage caused by concrete foundations containing pyrrhotite.

About three dozen towns in north-central and northeastern Connecticut – and some areas in nearby Massachusetts — have foundations built with concrete containing pyrrhotite from a quarry in Willington. Pyrrhotite is a mineral that expands with moisture and causes foundations to bow and crack.

A cracking foundation

FEMA rejected former Gov. Dannel Malloy’s efforts to consider the crumbling foundation crisis a natural disaster that would be eligible for federal disaster relief.

Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, are co-sponsors of Blumenthal’s bill, as well as separate legislation introduced by Murphy called the “Aid to Homeowners with Crumbling Foundations Act.”

That bill also seeks $100 million over five years to establish a grant program at the  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for states like Connecticut that have created non-profit crumbling foundations assistance funds to help homeowners.

Connecticut has a Crumbling Foundations Assistance Fund to allow $100 million in bonding, which would amount to annual payments of $20 million, over the next several years to assist victimized homeowners. Payments from the relief program, which began processing claims last month, are capped at $175,000. That isn’t enough to cover the cost of raising a house and replacing a foundation — estimated at about $250,000 — however, which is why federal relief is needed.

As of now, the only federal help for homeowners with crumbling foundations is the determination by the Internal Revenue Service — sought by Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, and Connecticut’s U.S. senators – to make an exception to the new federal tax laws that eliminated casualty loss deductions.  The IRS announced last February it would allow Connecticut homeowners with crumbling foundations to take advantage of a deduction on qualified home repairs through December 2020.

The senators introduced similar bills in the last Congress, but they did not win final approval.

“The federal government must step up and provide real relief from the unconscionable stress and expense made worse by the unacceptable inaction of many insurance companies.” Blumenthal said.

Murphy agreed.

“While we’ve been successful in getting Congress to take some action,” he said, “it’s not enough.”

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Ana has written about politics and policy in Washington, D.C.. for Gannett, Thompson Reuters and UPI. She was a special correspondent for the Miami Herald, and a regular contributor to The New York TImes, Advertising Age and several other publications. She has also worked in broadcast journalism, for CNN and several local NPR stations. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Journalism.

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  1. If people aren’t already aware of it, every homeowner policy in CT will now include a $12 charge to go to the Fund. I’ve also seen that it’s $12/person on the policy but, even if it’s not, it shouldn’t be our problem….PLUS $100 million in State bonding

    From the CT Dept of Housing website:

    “Approximately $9 million annually for 10 years through State legislation which imposes a $12 annual surcharge on homeowner’s insurance policies.”

    1. I agree that it shouldn’t be everyone’s problem. Someone not being able to pay their energy bill should not be my problem, yet every month I pay into a fund to assist.

      The U.S. does not have a strong, long-term home warranty requirement cover deficient construction. The builder’s liability is rather limited, so they’re out of the picture.

      Homeowners insurance is NOT a warranty intended to cover deficient construction or materials – it is a casualty loss program. No resources there to cover this.

      The general business liability insurance covering the concrete producer and their materials supplier(s) might have the appropriate pockets to pick to cover this. But what are the total $$$ available there?

      The phenomena causing the foundation distress was not widespread knowledge within the concrete industry until the early 2010s. Granted, there were pockets of knowledge around the globe prior to that time, but it was not widely disseminated. In general, no one knowingly did anything wrong by using the rock in concrete. Because it generally causes such slow-progressing distress, the connection to the specific mineral was not clearly identified.

      One could have attempted to pursue financial remedy from the material producers involved, but again, would total liquidation of all of their assets provided enough funds to make every affected home or building owner whole again? I think not.

      I liken this to fatal medical phenomena once attributed to old age decades ago that we now know the cause of, and the potential remedies for.

      I speak to this issue as someone with extensive experience in the concrete industry and who has examined 100s of foundations. I am not defending those who could be accused of providing defective materials as much as I am trying to explain that we (the industry) simply did not have the widespread depth of knowledge necessary to prevent it from occurring.

      I do not have a problem with contributing $12 annually to a relief fund. However, I DO have a problem with the 15% increase in my homeowners’ policy premium – which was explained to me by the underwriter that “costs have increased.”

    2. The $12 everyone pays will not come close to paying for the problem. FEMA help will lessen the burden for CT residents, the towns they live in and also on the state. There are already over 400 homes reported and that is just the beginning.

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