Crumbling Foundations In Eastern Connecticut: Who's Going To Pay For It?

Feb 6, 2017

Thousands of homeowners in northeastern Connecticut are facing a big problem. The foundations of their homes might be crumbling.

That’s because many homes in the area were built with defective concrete that came from Becker’s Quarry in Willington. Many homes that were built in the area in the early 1980s until as recently as 2011 were built using that defective concrete.

It could cost between $100,000 and $200,000 per home to fix the problem and it’s unclear who will pay for it. 

Last week Connecticut lawmakers held a hearing to try and figure it out.  

WSHU’s Senior Political Reporter Ebong Udoma recently sat down with News Director Dan Katz to discuss the story. Below is a transcript of their conversation. 

So, Ebong, what’s the latest now that they’ve held this hearing? How many people are truly affected? 

It’s hard to tell. State officials say it could be in the hundreds or as high as 19,000. It depends on if the homes built in about 37 towns in northeastern Connecticut had excessive amounts of the mineral pyrrhotite in the concrete mixture. That’s what leads to a crumbling foundation. But it takes years to manifest so it’s a slow motion disaster. To be sure, each home has to be tested and that costs money.

So why aren’t the insurance companies paying for this?

Well, most insurance companies are saying a crumbling foundation is not an abrupt collapse so it’s not covered.

I understand some local officials at the hearing were very upset about this?

Yes, they were. Lisa Pellegrini, is the first selectwoman of the town of Somers. She said, ‘If insurance companies could cover the homes, we’d be done today.’

So the reason state and local officials are trying to help is because insurance companies have refused?

That’s pretty much it. Here’s Pelligirini again.

‘I think the best solution to this devastating issue is to seek legislation to have the insurance companies cover the foundations, while at the same time protecting them from being sued. They are set up perfectly to deal with this since they can recoup their costs over the years with higher premiums. Everybody has to have skin in the game. Understand that having insurance companies may be very unpopular.’

Is she saying getting insurance companies to pay is unpopular at the state Capitol?  

Yes. Connecticut has been known as the insurance capital of America. And a number of insurers have their headquarters in Hartford, and they are some of the largest employers in the state. So generally state lawmakers give a lot of deference to the industry.

Does that mean lawmakers will come up with state money to help homeowners? Won’t this problem adversely affect local property values and reduce municipal revenues?

That’s a point local officials are making. But Tony Guglielmo, a Republican state senator from Ashford, and a member of the planning and development committee, says the state doesn’t have the money. He believes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, does.

‘I think they are a perfect fit for our problem. I mean that’s the business they are in. This is a slow moving hurricane. They should have stepped up to the plate right from the beginning. They are geared to do it. They have the temporary housing that people can move into while their house is being repaired.’

Hasn’t Connecticut applied a couple of times for FEMA assistance?

They have and they’ve been turned down. FEMA says it doesn’t cover manmade disasters. Guglielmo disagrees. He gives three recent examples where FEMA has not stuck with that rule – following the Boston Marathon bombing, after a grain silo exploded in Texas and when the levies collapsed in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

‘I guess I’d like to know how FEMA justifies stepping in in those situations and not being willing to step in in our situation.’

Tolland Town Manager Steven Werbner came up with this unique take. He believes FEMA might consider Connecticut’s request now because Donald Trump is president.

‘The guy at the top is a builder. So let’s have some sort of inroads there to see if he can step up to the plate and see if he can divert those building expectations from elsewhere to our part of the state.’

Interesting.

Yes, it is. In the meantime, Connecticut has approved a $5 million fund to help homeowners. Officials say that’s a drop in the bucket. They say to remedy the problem it would probably take hundreds of millions of dollars.

Just to be clear that $5 million is so that home owners can get their foundations tested not fixed. 

Yes, it is.

Thank you, Ebong

Thank you, Dan.

Subscribe to Ebong’s podcast, Capitol Avenue, on iTunes or Google Play.