There are several new state statutes that took effect on January 1st, and one of them is a real sleeper that will impact every home or condo owner in Wallingford and the rest of Connecticut. It has to do with addressing the terrible and growing problem of crumbling house foundations in northeastern and north central Connecticut.
The state government and media have given us the bare bones of the legislation: a Healthy Homes Fund is being set up that will be financed in two ways: 1) $20 million will be bonded in each of the next five years, and 2) every home insurance policy written, renewed or otherwise amended between January 1st, 2019, and December 31, 2029, will be assessed a $12 yearly surcharge (the state estimates this tax will annually raise $9 million). As a sweetener for the cities, two other provisions were added: $1 million will be available for soil subsidence problems in New Haven, and 15 percent of the fund will be available for residential “lead removal, remediation and abatement.”
There are three huge areas of concern with this legislation: it is a small fraction of the money needed, it is advertised as ending in 2029, and it will end up covering far more than originally intended.
First of all, in the five years of bonding and eleven years of homeowner’s insurance surcharges, a total of $199 million will be raised. After deducting administrative expenses, one million dollars will be sent to New Haven to address their sinking soil problem, and 15 percent more will be diverted to residential lead abatement. That will leave around $170 million to address the crumbling foundations problem up through 2029.
However, the financial implications of the Crumbling Concrete Foundation problem (as it’s called) dwarfs the remittances to this fund. The Hartford Courant reported that the state estimates the presence of pyrrhotite in the concrete foundations of 34,000 dwellings, and that the remediation (i.e., replacing the foundation) will average $185,000 per home. That computes to — are you ready? — $6,290,000,000. That’s $6.3 billion. Even the more realistic CRCOG.org website estimate of 4,774 affected homes carries an estimated price tag of $783,924,000, meaning the legislation as passed will fund only 22 percent of the money ultimately required.
Secondly, note that the bonding ends after five years and the insurance policy surcharge after eleven. Even using the most conservative estimate, this leaves the Healthy Homes Fund over $600 million short of solving the problem.
Yet the legislation was crafted to end in 2029. This legislation is the poster child for one of economist Milton Friedman’s most famous quotes: “There is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program.” This 2019 legislation will be amended and the “sunset provision” eliminated sometime in the ensuing years, the hope being that we will not notice and our memory that this law had such a provision will fade with time.
Furthermore, the pressure to keep raising this innocuous $12 levy will be overwhelming. The State of Connecticut is so far in the hole that bonding its way through this crumbling foundation problem will be impossible. Before long, this $12 number will grow and grow, and the people who passed this law know it. Twelve dollars per year is just the opening bid. Bet on it.
Thirdly, the legislature hung an extra ornament on this Christmas tree: money for lead abatement. Now the original bill stated that it was for “funding a program … to reduce health and safety hazards in residential dwellings in Connecticut, including, but not limited to, lead, radon and other contaminants or conditions …” [emphasis added]. The final bill limited it to “lead removal, remediation or abatement.” I do not believe for one minute that this restriction will remain in future years. The pressure from the industries involved in radon “and other contaminants or conditions” will be relentless. And the state government as it is presently constituted will be happy to oblige.
The problem that is the subject of this column needs a solution, and the size and complexity of the problem demands a government solution. The homeowners involved do not have the means, and the problem is not of their doing. The private insurance market clearly delineated that this problem would not be covered. Our Congressional delegation is too encumbered with Trump Derangement Syndrome to be able to secure any federal financial or legislative assistance whatsoever.
We the people of Connecticut will have to step up and solve this unfortunate problem for ourselves. The very least that we should expect from our state elected officials is to give us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The legislation that this column discussed does nothing of the sort. It is not the solution to this vexing problem. It is merely a beginning masquerading as the solution. We got conned … again.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.
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