Working together to fix cracking foundations

Investing in a home is the largest purchase most people make in their lives. Imagine finding out, through no fault of your own, that the investment is significantly devalued due to a crumbling foundation. Further imagine that you learn that your homeowners’ policy excludes this sort of damage and that there is no remedial assistance at this time from either the state or federal government.

That is situation that hundreds of homeowners are facing right now in Connecticut. From 1980 until 2015, some unknown amount of concrete used in the construction of home foundations included a mineral called pyrrhotite that expands over time when exposed to moisture and other external factors. This causes the home’s foundation to crack devaluing a home by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

To replace an affected foundation, it would cost a homeowner approximately $150,000 or more, often more than the value of the home.

To make matters worse due to lack of records, Connecticut doesn’t even know the extent of the problem facing homeowners because to test for the presence of pyrrhotite it costs nearly $6,000 and currently there are no statewide standards

It has been estimated by the New York Times that this could affect nearly 20,000 homeowners in eastern Connecticut costing the homeowners, state and local governments tens of millions of dollars in repair costs.

I co-chair the Capitol Region Council on Government’s Ad Hoc working committee that is working to develop a statewide solution for the crumbling foundations issue. We are working with lawmakers in both parties to find a solution that tries to accomplish four goals this year.

First, we need a statewide comprehensive testing program to determine the size and scope of the crisis we are facing as well as statewide standards for the presence of pyrrhotite. Since there is no incentive for homeowners to have their foundations tested, we don’t know the extent of the problem facing Connecticut and currently even if foundations are tested that have not started showing symptoms of cracking , but have a presence of the mineral, there is no way to determine if in the future it will be a concern. This could affect more homeowners than were impacted by any hurricane or natural disaster. In addition, this could economically devastate the state’s real estate market, which local governments are dependent on to generate their revenue.

Second, any testing program must be coupled with some monetary relief for affected homeowners. A statewide testing program will be ineffective without a remediation fund for homeowners to fix crumbling foundations. This relief fund ideally would include contributions from the state and federal government as well as the private sector.

Third, we need a statewide solution. This problem is too complex and expensive for local governments to handle piecemeal. If this were a storm or a natural disaster, there would be relief programs to help homeowners. We have fashioned and recommended to the General Assembly rules and regulations for a relief fund modeled after programs in Canada, which is experiencing a similar problem.

Finally, we must act now and can’t afford to wait until next year. We can’t afford to let a backlog develop on fixing these foundations. Currently there are over 500 homes registered with the State Department of Consumer Protection, many of which have foundations that have deteriorated at levels 60 percent or greater. We need an orderly and timely strategy to remediate these homes before we have a true crisis.

It’s easy to turn a blind eye to this problem and say it doesn’t affect me, why should I care? We are, however, a small state that comes together when friends and neighbors are impacted by natural events beyond their control. This problem will impact local banks holding mortgages; will affect the local economy of a number of towns; will impact suburban communities that provide housing to many working at the University of Connecticut and Hartford; and may impact statewide insurance rates. Beyond the economic consequences for everyone of letting this problem go unaddressed, those who we know are affected are emotionally and financially devastated.

These are our neighbors and fellow citizens. We can’t turn our backs on them. We must do everything we can to help them and do it this year. Please urge your local state representatives as well as federal delegation to pass funding and administrative rules and regulations associated with this concern this year.

Steve Werebner is the town manager for Tolland and the co-chair for the Ad Hoc Working Group on Crumbling Foundations for the Capitol Region Council on Governments.

 

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