Connecticut’s Foundation Crisis Continues On
Some homeowners in northeastern Connecticut have been experiencing their own personal earthquakes as faulty home foundations fail underfoot. The New York Times article, “With Connecticut Foundations Crumbling, ‘Your Home Is Now Worthless’” shared one resident’s harrowing experience.
“Sandra Miller was at work in January when her daughter called from their home here on Oakridge Drive with alarming news. The house was making loud noises as if someone had jumped off the counter and landed with a bang. For a few seconds afterward, the house shook. A while later, it happened again, and again. Over the next several hours, terrifying bangs rattled the house.” The next day a structural engineer determined that the house was literally collapsing underfoot.
While not every homeowner’s discovery was as frightening as the Millers – hundreds, likely thousands of home foundations in the area are falling apart. In search of an explanation, the state reached out to The University of Connecticut, asking them to conduct a study to find out why.
The university found that one common factor in all the foundations was the presence of pyrrhotite, a mineral that is known to swell when exposed to oxygen and water causing cracking of concrete. Concrete is composed of cement, sand and aggregate and typically mixed at the building site. The pyrrhotite that was compromising the integrity of the concrete, and causing foundations to deteriorate, was traced back to one particular quarry and the aggregate that they provided for the mix.
The compromised aggregate was used to mix concrete for thousands of Connecticut homes from 1983 until 2016 when the company went into a voluntary agreement to no longer use that aggregate for residential construction. The current number of homes who are experiencing foundation issues is expected to continue to increase. Connecticut State Department of Housing explains that this is because “The cracking (of the foundation) starts small and may take more than 10 years to over 30 years to appear.”
Homeowners who experienced foundation failure and turned to their insurance providers for assistance and found their claims denied. The state stepped in, advising insurers that while they may be within their rights to deny claims they should not consider canceling policies over foundation claims.
A bill was also passed in 2016 that allowed homes experiencing foundation failure to undergo property value reassessments. While short term solutions did save property owners money come tax time – it had a negative impact in communities where multiple homes within the same township were given lower property value assessments.
The Middletown Press reported that “A handful of medium-to-small towns now have seen up to $8 million in losses on their taxable property lists, and the subsequent dip in tax collections is beginning to show up in their budgets.” The towns the article refers to are South Windsor, Vernon and Tolland. Other towns have lost anywhere from $1 to $6 million according to data provided by the Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG).
In addition to warning insurers not to drop homeowners from their policies, Connecticut has provided financial assistance in several different ways.
The Connecticut Foundation Solutions Indemnity Company (CFSIC) was established to provide grants of up to $175,000 to eligible homeowners. However, since the work is extensive, even $175,000 doesn’t cover the full amount to bring the home back to the original condition.
This is where the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) comes in. The CHFA works with four banks to provide guaranteed, gap loans for homeowners. What the CHFA lends, helps homeowners to pay for the costs that go above and beyond the funding provided by the indemnity company.
Because the number of affected homes continues to rise, the grant money provided by the CFSIC is running out. When the CFSIC was created they were to receive $125 million, to be dispersed to eligible homeowners up until 2022. As of 2019, their funding is almost exhausted by the 121 million applications that have been submitted. This has forced the CSFIC to temporarily suspend taking applications until new sources of funding are found.
Dan Keune is the President of the Connecticut Association of REALTORS®, and he also serves on the CFSIC’s Board of Directors. From his vantage point, “The number of applications the CFSIC has received says a great deal about the success of the program. When we first began accepting applications in February there were individuals who didn’t believe that the problem was as large as it appeared. Yet, here we are about to run short of funding three years ahead of schedule because of the rising need for assistance.”
Michael Maglaras, the CFSICs Superintendent, is very concerned about the future. “We’re looking at a natural disaster here. A catastrophe. This is an insidious problem. It’s gradual. It creeps up through the system and it destroys homes and it destroys lives.” Maglaras is urging state and federal lawmakers to put forward another $100 million, funding that he believes will put an end to the first wave of the problem.
One of the requirements of the CFSIC that began this past February was that homeowners were had to have an inspection conducted by an engineer if they needed to qualify for CFSIC funding in the future. Because the foundation issues could arise at any time, new home buyers needed to complete this inspection as soon as possible. However, the time it took to find a qualified engineer was causing a significant delay in home sales.
The Connecticut Association of REALTORS® created a solution by funding a course, that the CFSIC led, giving traditional home inspectors the knowledge they need to perform the required foundation inspections. This greatly reduced the time it took to buy and sell a home as well as ensuring that homeowners had a reliable inspection.
Keune says that the Connecticut Association of REALTORS® will continue to support its members, clients and communities the best we can with this difficult situation.