Sinking Homes’ Owners Try Again

Markeshia Ricks PhotoCheryl Jackson has watched over the years as neighbors got help saving their sinking homes. Now she’s hoping her turn has finally arrived.

It will be up to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state Bond Commission to determine if Jackson and her neighbors will get that help. And even if they get it, only time will tell if it will be enough.

This month homeowners in a similar predicament in the northeastern part of the state won the governor’s attention, and $5 million in help.

In Northeastern Connecticut the problem for homeowners has been traced to the mineral pyrrhotite, which was used in the concrete for foundations poured between 1983 and 2011. In Upper Westville, it is hypothesized that the true cause of sinking homes is that the neighborhood, built on top of ponds, lakes, and swamps that had been filled in starting back in the 1930s, is on top of a water table that is causing foundations to crumble, houses to sink, and basements to flood. (Read more about that here.)

Two different causes, but the same results: communities with hundreds of homes that could be rendered worthless without expensive repairs.

New Haven’s state representatives and Amity/Beverly Hills Alders Darryl Brackeen Jr. and Richard Furlow have worked behind the scenes to seek similar financial support for homeowners in Upper Westville as has been received in the Northeastern part of the state. Though it is unclear how many homes in the neighborhood might be impacted—a previous study only focused on city streets and not private properties—Brackeen said there could be hundreds of homes with perilous foundations.

The delegation is asking the state to borrow about $4 million for the “Flooded Home Bond Authorization” for structural assessments and repairs to homes that have experienced flooding and sinking damage and are in the immediate vicinity of the West River and adjacent to the Yale Golf Course.

It’s not an unprecedented ask.

When the problem of sinking homes and flooding was first discovered in the Beverly Hills section of the city, State Rep. Pat Dillon, and then-Sen. Toni Harp successfully asked for the state to bond $2 million to help neighbors at risk of losing their homes. It took several years but the state eventually came through with $1.5 million, which went to some homeowners in Woodbridge and at least four in Westville.  Now, more Upper Westville homeowners are asking the state to help save their homes and in the process maintain the stability of a neighborhood.

Stay Or Walk Away?

Repairs to the foundation would be exorbitantly prohibitive for retirees like Cheryl Jackson and her husband Charles. The couple had lived in their modular home on the hilly Fountain Terrace for more than a decade when their house started sinking.

To the untrained eye, it might be hard to notice something amiss. But Charles, who worked in the homebuilding business, can easily point out the cracks all over the inside and outside of the house. The floor of the finished basement that takes a noticeable dip the farther you get across the room. The side door that takes some elbow grease to open. The front and back steps that are separating from the entrances of the house. The buckled concrete of what Charles said was once a smooth driveway.

“At night you can hear the house sinking,” Charles said. “It’s pretty loud.”

Lack of water underground might be at the root of what’s creating the home’s foundation problems. But when there is too much water above ground in the form of rain, the Jacksons’ have to deal with flooding in their basement.

The Jacksons applied for help from the original Sinking Home Fund that was established to help the Beverly Hills homeowners but their property didn’t fall within the perimeters of the map drawn of the covered area. Dillon said if the Bond Commission approves the new request for funds the Jacksons likely will be eligible for assistance.

Alder Darryl Brackeen said he is grateful that the state delegation has been able to move forward some relief for homeowners but he is concerned that the geographical scope of the bond authorization might be too narrow. Brackeen also is concerned that without a more comprehensive study that there’s no way to know the true extent of the problem. 

He’s asked the delegation to add more language to the authorization that would include affected homes specifically on Stevenson Road, Fountain Terrace, Kohary Drive, Glen View Terrace, Frederick Street, Beverly Road and Westerleigh Road. He has collected a list of 61 homes from those seven streets that have reported sinking or flood damage, or both.

Dillon said the legislative legal staff has opined that the bond language is consistent with what was used to establish the original fund and encompasses the seven streets that are of concern.

Meanwhile, homeowners like the Jacksons are left to contemplate walking away from their biggest investment, their home.

A structural engineer determined that the Jackson home would need nearly $74,000 to stabilize the foundation and the outer walls of the basement. That estimate does not include any repairs that likely would be needed to the main floor of the house because of the stabilization work.

Cheryl Jackson, who was recently injured on the leaning stairs that lead down to her basement,  said she maintains contact with Dillon and Brackeen with the hopes that somebody can help. The family is at a crossroads. She said if something doesn’t happen soon, the family will likely walk away from a house they can’t sell and they can’t afford to repair out of pocket.

“We’re going to have to move out,” Jackson said if there is no help to repair the house. “There is no other option.”

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posted by: robn on December 2, 2017  10:05am

Every house in the city that was built in the 1890’s (meaning all of East Rock, Fair Haven, The Hill, Newhallville, etc..) has cracked and leaky basements and structural settlement resulting in nonplanar walls ceilings, floors etc. Why is this group in Westville getting special treatment for their property degradation?

posted by: new havener on December 3, 2017  1:51am

where is the cry to remove the homes, take up the roads, and restore the ponds? kind of like a green anti-gentrification sort of thing?? a more trees, less global-warming initiative…isn’t Detroit doing this?

On a more serious note, don’t these owners have cases against their title insurance and home-inspection companies?? this seems to have individual responsibility, rather than governments, written all over it, like the Southern Hamden neighborhood that was built on a dump created by Winchester/Olin Corp…