Crumbling foundations a go-to issue for political candidates
By SUSAN HAIGH
Aug. 06, 2018
WILLINGTON, Conn. (AP) — A pocket of eastern Connecticut where hundreds, if not thousands, of homeowners are struggling with crumbling foundations has become a popular stop for political candidates seeking statewide office in this year's election.
Democratic and Republican candidates for governor and other seats have visited Tim Heim's Willington home in recent months to get personal tours of his basement. Heim, president of the Connecticut Coalition Against Crumbling Basements, said each candidate appeared amazed to see the web of cracks spreading in the concrete walls and subsequently promised to help.
While Heim acknowledges he hasn't heard any new ideas for helping affected homeowners, he said he's hoping someone in this steady stream of political contenders "whether you're red or blue or in the middle" will follow through on the promises.
"And for me, this year, it's not about the party," said Heim, who previously has voted Republican. "It's about the candidate. And this is my No. 1 issue. No. 1 issue is crumbling foundations, and everything to me and thousands of other homeowners is secondary."
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.
In many circumstances, it can cost $100,000 to $200,000 to replace a foundation, an expense typically not covered by insurance.
Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Greenwich hedge fund manager David Stemerman was the latest to get Heim's tour. He appeared Monday with a handful of campaign staffers, reporters and a wooden podium affixed with a campaign sign — set up in front of one of the largest cracks in Heim's basement, near a couple of old dining room chairs.
Stemerman used the backdrop to announce a five-point plan he said will address the issue while hitting home an overall campaign message that "our state is crumbling at its foundation." He called for an independent investigation into the problem, which could affect 35,000 homeowners, more than 700 of whom had registered complaints with the state Department of Consumer Protection as of last week.
He also called for a new commission to ensure financial resources are awarded to homeowners in a "transparent" manner.
The General Assembly recently created a not-for-profit captive insurance company to distribute $100 million in state bonds over five years to help pay for repairs. That company also will handle the estimated $10 million a year in revenue generated from a new $12 annual surcharge on residential homeowner policies.
Heim and others contend much more money, possibly in the billions of dollars, is needed to help homeowners. They're also concerned about how much of the cost the captive insurance company will decide to cover.
Stemerman, like others who came before him, promised to work with the insurance companies and the federal government to cover more of the cost.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, the GOP's endorsed candidate for governor, visited Heim's house last week, vowing to tell insurance companies "to do the right thing." Greenwich businessman Ned Lamont, the endorsed Democratic candidate for governor, also toured Heim's basement, saying everyone from banks to the federal delegation needs to come to the table.
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, a Democratic governor candidate, agreed the federal government and insurers need to do more. But he hasn't made the trek to Heim's basement.
"I'm very interested and very concerned," he said. "But I didn't want to be one of five just going to out to visit the same home that most of them are going to."
Sean Cassells, whose Mansfield home was being lifted by contractors on Thursday, said he believes the various candidates see the crumbling-foundations issue "as something they can ramp up their campaign with." But he and his wife still welcome the newfound attention, hoping to someday be reimbursed retroactively for the $150,000 they're spending to replace their foundation.
"Anything," Cassells said, "is something right now."