Richard DeFrancesco Sr. and his wife Joyce experienced a many corrosion problems with Chinese drywall at their Cape Coral home, such as th bronze lamp between them. / Marc Beaudin/news-press.com
1:10 A.M. — WASHINGTON - Joyce and Richard DeFrancesco believed they bought their dream house when they moved to Cape Coral in 2006.
But, they say, corrosive drywall ruined their stove, air conditioner and water heater. The sulfurous drywall left them coughing and fuming for answers.
"It has totally stressed us out," said Joyce DeFrancesco, 70, who discovered the burst water heater Tuesday when she noticed water was streaming under her garage door and down the street.
The DeFrancescos are among thousands of Americans whose homes have contaminated drywall that federal authorities are urging them to tear out. The Consumer Product Safety Commission received 3,000 reports about drywall from 37 states by February, with Florida representing 60 percent of the reports.
While the DeFrancescos grapple with the cost and legal limbo of living in an almost uninhabitable house, their daughter serves in Congress, where lawmakers are searching for remedies.
"It's a crucial issue for people all over America, not only for my parents," said Rep. Deborah Halvorson, D-Ill. "People are headed for bankruptcy."
Halvorson was among a half-dozen lawmakers who met Thursday as the House Contaminated Drywall Caucus met for 90 minutes with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The meeting followed the April 2 announcement by the consumer product commission homeowners should remove contaminated drywall, which corrodes metal such as wiring and appliances.
Richard Kampf, a Cape Coral homeowner who leads a grass-roots group of 350 with corrosive drywall, said he appreciated keeping homeowners involved, but he was disappointed with the lack of results.
"It was very frustrating," said Kampf, who attended but wasn't allowed to speak at the meeting. "I think they've done a really good job in trying to get the homeowners involved."
The meeting was closed to the media because agency officials weren't authorized to speak publicly about the issue.
Repairs could cost billions. Enough Chinese drywall was imported in recent years to build 60,000 homes. Contractors estimate it would cost $85 per square foot to tear out all of a house's drywall and replace it, which would total $170,000 for a 2,000-square-foot house. Replacing wiring and appliances would cost even more.
The Florida Health Department found 530 homes statewide with metal corrosion blamed on drywall by March 1, with the most - 86 - in Lee County. But county appraisers identified 2,505 homes that had their value reduced because of drywall and another 846 cases are pending.
U.S. Rep. Connie Mack IV, R-Fort Myers, said he asked for more information about how much Community Development Block Grants could provide to homeowners. The grants can't be given to individuals, but could be distributed for housing through municipalities such as Cape Coral.
"There are a lot of people who have been suffering for a long time and they need answers quick," Mack said. "We want a detailed explanation of how much has been appropriated, what's been allocated and what's it been used for."
The caucus chairman, Rep. Glenn Nye, D-Va., urged Senate approval of his legislation the House passed in October to allow homeowners to get low-interest loans through the Small Business Administration to remove their drywall.
"We are looking down a number of avenues," Nye said. "This has been a disaster, like a hurricane or a tornado."
The problem with direct grants or loans is the expense facing either the government or the homeowner.
Kampf said drywall must compete with other needs for Community Development Block Grant funding, and even then the $400,000 potentially available this year for drywall would cover only three homes.
Kampf's goal is for Congress to create a grant program to cover housing repairs - and then seek repayment for the costs from manufacturers in China and Germany, under threat of lawsuits that would carry penalties of triple damages.
"We need a dedicated federal funding source," Kampf said.
The DeFrancescos lived through a series of problems. The glass in their stove blew out in December 2006. They've replaced their air conditioning coil three times. The water heater was spewing water all over the garage from what the repairman blamed on corrosion.
Meanwhile, Richard DeFrancesco, 77, coughs all night and Joyce DeFrancesco has suffered bronchitis for eight weeks. When they leave the house for a day, the symptoms go away.
But they can't afford to abandon the house or even relocate while the problem is resolved
"We're going to have to stay put for right now," Joyce DeFrancesco said. "We're in limbo. We have no idea what we're going to do. It's unreal."