VERNON, CT – Debbie MacCoy, a longtime advocate for homeowners afflicted by faulty concrete, asked for help cracking open a bottle of champagne Monday while construction workers behind her raised an eight-unit condo building steadily off its foundation.
Robert Beaulieu, owner of Tolland County Foundation Replacement, popped the top off the bottle.
“I knew you could do it,” a smiling MacCoy told him.
MacCoy said she was excited to see the long, gray-sided building sitting up on blocks. It was the first eight-unit condominium raised, with state assistance, to have its foundation replaced as a result of pyrrhotite, a mineral found to be ruining concrete in home foundations throughout Connecticut.
The issue is widespread and costly. According to the Connecticut Foundation Solutions Indemnity Company, which manages a state homeowners’ assistance fund, 370 property owners have been hit with the problem in Vernon alone. Statewide there were over 1,600 known claims as of CFSIC’s 2020 annual report.
CFSIC Superintendent Michael Maglaras said the company, which began in 2019, expected to help its 300th homeowner by sometime next week.
MacCoy said CFSIC had approved funds to cover most of the costs of the project that started Monday morning at Ryefield Condominiums. The captive insurance company would pay $70,000 for each of the eight units, she said. The project’s true costs, which included the raising, were closer to $80,000 per unit. A separate five-year loan would cover the difference. Condo owners would pay it off through fees, she said.
Still, MacCoy viewed Monday’s raising as a victory and a reason to celebrate. That’s in part because Connecticut was slow to extend eligibility for CFSIC funds to condominium owners and MacCoy has fought to see that changed. She founded advocacy organizations including a group she called the “Concrete Queens.”
And, during a special legislative session last year, lawmakers passed a bill to expand access for condo associations, who had previously been boxed out by low per-association borrowing limits. Now they are permitted to borrow $75,000 per building.
And as the weather has warmed this year, condo-owners have begun to take advantage of the eligibility.
“Today, this is a big deal. This is the first eight-unit building to be lifted,” MacCoy said. “It took five years for it to finally come to fruition. But it’s finally paid off.”
Beaulieu, whose business is replacing crumbling foundations, said he’s been busy with five other projects since the ground thawed last month.
“This is our first condo,” he said, looking under the length of the building. “Trust me, you don’t want to be doing this when the ground’s frozen.”
The Connecticut Foundation Solutions Indemnity Company program is funded through the combination of a $12 surcharge on homeowner insurance policies and $100 million in bonding by the state. The company has so far received $80 million of the bonded funds and $10.6 million from the annual surcharges.
On Monday, Maglaras said his organization expected to begin making more funding commitments this summer when it receives another expected $10.6 million infusion from the surcharge program. In July, he hopes the State Bond Commission will approve the remaining $20 million in bonding for the fund.
After that, the funding picture becomes less clear. Although the Healthy Homes surcharge will continue until 2030, the Connecticut Foundation Solutions Indemnity Company is currently scheduled to sunset next summer.
A bill under consideration at the state Capitol would remove the fund’s sunset date so that the company could continue to administer the money generated by the surcharge. The proposal would also extend the surcharge until 2041. Maglaras said the extension would go a long way toward solving the problem.
“We get that, and essentially this crisis is fixed for the next 25 years. That’s what it takes,” he said.
Maglaras said he hoped Connecticut residents would be willing to continue paying the $12 dollar surcharge.
“I’m asking someone in Greenwich or someone in Danbury or someone in Norwalk to give us 4 cents a day to help these people with nowhere to go … We’re not asking for a huge sacrifice. I don’t know what you can buy for four pennies a day beyond helping a family in distress,” he said.