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Homeowners afflicted with crumbling concrete could see relief from Build Back Better Act, US Rep. Richard Neal and Connecticut delegation

WASHINGTON — The $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act promises relief for homeowners afflicted with crumbling concrete in the form of a renewed tax deduction and a federal tax credit that can reimburse them for rehabbing their properties.

Both provisions emerged with the bill from the House Ways and Means Committee chaired by U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, whose sprawling congressional district includes communities where the pyrrhotite-contaminated concrete is found. Connecticut U.S. Reps. John B. Larson, D-Hartford, and Joseph D. Courtney, D-Vernon, first announced the news last week.

“It’s certainly hopeful,” said Michelle Loglisci of Monson.

A founding member of Massachusetts Residents Against Crumbling Concrete, Loglisci’s home has a failing foundation that could cost $253,000 to repair.

But the two provisions, as part of the whole package of President Joe Biden-backed infrastructure proposals, face stiff opposition from Republican lawmakers.

Even if they are made law, Loglisci said, they would only help, not completely solve the problem. And in order for most homeowners to take advantage of the federal provisions, they’ll need help from measures Loglisci and her group are lobbying for in state law.

Massachusetts Senate Bill 548 would require testing of stone at the quarry, mandate that sellers report the presence of pyrrhotite, waive permit fees for pyrrhotite-related repair work, and allow creation of a captive insurance program like Connecticut has in place.

Crumbling Concrete in Wales
From left, state Rep. Brian Ashe, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and state Sen. Anne Gobi listen as homeowner Michael Milanese shows them the cracking concrete in his basement in Wales on April 6. (Don Treeger / The Republican file photo)

The federal bill passed out of Neal’s committee would repeal a provision in the 2017 Trump tax bill that put a temporary limitation on personal casualty loss deductions. Affected homeowners would be able to deduct losses retroactive to 2018.

It would also create a federal tax credit providing $50,000 for the rehabilitation of deteriorated homes in distressed neighborhoods. The distressed neighborhoods would include places where pyrrhotite has been found.

The tax credit would not allow homeowners to double-dip, Loglisci said. It wouldn’t cover losses covered by insurance, even a captive insurance system.

But the tax credit would help cover additional costs, like replacing sidewalks, foundations and landscaping, after the foundations are dug out and replaced. Homes typically are jacked up, the foundations removed and new ones poured.

“I’m sure when we decide to have it done it’ll ruin our driveway,” Loglisci said.

Home insurance routinely denies claims from pyrrhotite unless the home has completely collapsed, Loglisci said. That’s why she and others want Massachusetts to establish a captive insurance program like Connecticut’s, funded by a surcharge on homeowners’ insurance policies.

She said mandatory disclosures by home sellers and more testing are needed.

“It’s a very difficult thing to admit that you have lost all the equity you had in your home,” she said.

Neal said in a written statement that his committee “undertook the enormous task of marking up the Build Back Better Act in four days.”

“During our almost 40 hours of debate, the Committee worked through 66 amendments and debated measures that will provide support to the American family,” he said. “Two tax provisions that passed through the Committee would ensure that homeowners have a way to defray the cost of replacing or repairing their home’s crumbling foundation.”

“This assistance is vital,” Neal continued. “Homeowners find themselves in this position through no fault of their own and our objective on the Ways and Means Committee is to lessen their burden as best we can.”

Neal visited homes afflicted with the problem in the town of Wales in April, walking through basements and looking on as homeowners described the relentless advance of cracks and fissures.

Pyrrhotite is a naturally occurring mineral that reacts with air and water when incorporated into concrete. Over time, 20-years or longer, the reaction makes the concrete expand and crumble. Once the process has begun, it can’t be arrested, and the only solution is to remove the bad material.

The now defunct J.J. Mottes Concrete used pyrrhotite-tainted stone in concrete it sold from 1983 until it was told to stop doing so by the state of Connecticut in 2015. The concrete was shipped to construction sites across eastern Connecticut and central and Western Massachusetts, with documented cases all over eastern Hampden County and western Worcester County and into the Hampshire County town of Ware.