Connecticut moved closer Saturday toward adding a $12 annual surcharge on the insurance policies of every residential homeowner to financially help hundreds, if not thousands, of homeowners with crumbling foundations pay for costly repairs.
After emotional appeals from eastern and central Connecticut lawmakers, whose constituents have been affected by the problematic concrete, the bill was approved by the House of Representatives on a bipartisan 97-42 vote.
“We have the American dream crumbling beneath these people,” said Republican Rep. Tim Ackert, of Coventry, whose town is among about 40 communities where the issue has arisen.
He spoke about how his neighbors paid off their mortgage last year, only to have to pay a contractor knock down the structure and build them a new home. In many circumstances, it can cost $100,000 to $200,000 to replace a foundation. And it’s a massive expense that typically hasn’t been covered by insurance.
The foundations are failing because of the presence of pyrrhotite, a mineral that has reacted naturally with oxygen and water over the decades, causing 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 homes. The problem also has been discovered in parts of Massachusetts near the Connecticut border.
An estimated 30,000 or more homes and condominiums built in eastern and central Connecticut from the mid-1980s to 2016 could have failing foundations because of the presence of pyrrhotite.
Lawmakers last year passed legislation that created a not-for-profit captive insurance company to distribute $100 million in state bonds over five years to help pay for repairs. The state has also made $5 million available to provide up to 50 percent reimbursement to test for the presence of pyrrhotite. But lawmakers have said much more funding is needed to address the problem, which is expected to crop up for years to come. The 10-year surcharge is expected to generate about $10 million annually, which proponents conceded still falls short.
“I think we need to keep working on finding a permanent solution,” said Republican Rep. Doug Dubitsky, of Chapin. He said insurers, mortgage companies, the concrete company and the federal government need to help financially as well.
One state lawmaker, Democratic Rep. Kelly Juleson-Scopino of Manchester, revealed during Saturday’s debate that she lives an affected home. Juleson-Scopino said she’s been hesitant to speak out because she didn’t want her comments to appear self-serving, but felt she needed to voice support for the legislation on behalf of her constituents and the 635 homeowners who’ve come forward so far and registered with the state.
Juleson-Scopino said she purchased her home for about $300,000 and it was recently reassessed at $86,000.
“I’ll just let that sink in for a moment – $86,000. I’m fortunate that I’m young. I can recover from this,” she said. “I have neighbors whose marriages have fallen apart because of this. I have others who have been hospitalized…I know many others have walked away.”
While Republican Rep. Rob Sampson, of Wolcott. called the fee a “hidden tax” in people’s insurance bills, most lawmakers spoke in favor of the legislation.
“This doesn’t affect my community. Will it ever affect it? Probably not,” said Democratic Rep. Cathy Abercrombie of Meriden. “But I’ve got to tell you folks, we are a small state and we should be supporting each other. If this was happening in your community, wouldn’t you want the state to help you?”
The bill also helps pay for lead and radon abatement homes and the remediation of homes that are sinking in a New Haven neighborhood.