Aid Sought for Crumbling Basements as Homeowners Ask for Federal Probe

By SUSAN HAIGH | July 24, 2017

While legislators still don’t have a deal on a new state budget, one key senator says there’s agreement on creating a new fund to help thousands of homeowners whose concrete foundations are crumbling because of a naturally occurring chemical reaction.

Democratic Sen. Cathy Osten, of Sprague, a co-chair of the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee, said she’s hoping that about $60 million will be set aside, enough to help homeowners with immediate problems.

“We have committed to having a fund in the budget on crumbling concrete. That piece will happen,” Osten said. “If we can get a budget through, this can get settled this year.”

Lawmakers have yet to reach an agreement on a new two-year state budget. They did not pass a plan before the fiscal year ended June 30. Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz has said he hopes a deal can be reached before the end of July.

Tim Heim, a founder of the Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements, said many affected homeowners are frustrated that the General Assembly has not been able to provide financial relief. He said the $60 million won’t solve the entire problem, which he estimates could end up costing more than $1 billion, but it could help those homeowners whose homes have seriously deteriorated or become unlivable. For some homeowners, it could cost as much as $200,000 to replace an entire basement.

“I’m trying to stay hopeful and optimistic that there will be some type of financial resolution for the victims who need the help today out of this budget,” he said. “But, I’ll believe it when I see it.”

On Friday, Heim and his group filed a request with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Connecticut to investigate how much various officials and entities knew about the problem and whether there was any wrongdoing. The frustrated residents argue that if the problem had been seriously reviewed years ago, the problem could have been solved and many homeowners could be been spared the misfortune of having deteriorating foundations.

Thirty-six communities in central and northeastern Connecticut have been identified has potentially having homes with failing foundations because of the presence of pyrrhotite, a mineral that naturally reacts with oxygen and water. Over decades, that reaction can cause the concrete to crack and crumble, making some homes unsellable and unlivable. The problem, which first came to light in the mid-1990s, has been traced to a Willington quarry that provided material to a concrete maker whose product was used in thousands of houses.

As of July 14, the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection had received complaints from 545 homeowners with crumbling foundations.

During this year’s regular legislative session, legislators were considering various proposals to help some homeowners. Osten said some of those ideas are still being deliberated, such state bonding, a surcharge on homeowner policies and a special account funded by insurance companies, banks and other entities.

Osten convened a meeting Tuesday to urge the Connecticut Department of Housing to apply for a federal loan of up to $60 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, of Connecticut, helped to secure the loan about a year ago.

“We think more could be done to really work with the department to get the maximum amount of assistance possible,” said Courtney, who has neighbors in his hometown of Vernon whose foundations are crumbling.

Dan Arsenault, spokesman for the state’s housing department, said conversations are continuing between the state’s executive branch, the legislature and “federal partners” to determine how best to address the problem.

“Many ideas have been discussed and all those involved will continue to evaluate every option that may be available to provide relief to these homeowners,” he said.

Courtney and fellow Connecticut U.S. Rep. John Larson, also a Democrat, are currently waiting for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, which oversees the Internal Revenue Service, to agree to grant tax relief to the affected homeowners through a casualty loss deduction.

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