Repairs planned for ‘uninhabitable’ public housing units

HUDSON–New officers, locked stairways, a former executive director, empty apartments, private investment, and State Street construction received attention at the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) meeting Tuesday, September 12.

The HHA controls Bliss Towers and the low rise Columbia Apartments in Hudson by Second Street, between State and Columbia streets.

Robert Davis joined HHA’s Board of Commissioners as a new tenant commissioner, replacing former treasurer Tracy Brown. Tenants elected Mr. Davis to the position last month. On September 12, HHA Executive Director Tim Mattice introduced and welcomed Mr. Davis, saying, “Robert has lived in Bliss close to three years and has helped us out a lot. He has great ideas.”

In addition to Mr. Davis, the Board has five other commissioners: Mary Decker (also a tenant commissioner), Randall Martin, Anthony Pastel, Peggy Polenberg and Alan Weaver. The board elected among themselves for the year: Mr. Weaver as chair, Mr. Martin as vice-chair, and Ms. Polenberg as treasurer.

Cece Graham of Claverack reported visiting Bliss earlier that day and finding it “nice” and “clean,” but she had waited 20 minutes for an elevator from the second floor to the first. It would have saved time to take the stairs, but they are blocked by doors whose electronic lock opens only when the fire alarm activates. “Is it necessary to have the stairs locked?” Ms. Graham asked.

“You mean, there’s no stairs down from the second floor?” Ms. Polenberg asked.

“It’s legal,” said Mr. Mattice.

Stairways are where people do drugs, Mr. Weaver said.

Some people asked what about medical emergencies that involve no fire but where stairs would be quicker than elevators. But no motion occurred for further action on this matter.

On another matter, legal counsel Michael Bruno said that Jeffery First, who was executive director for over two decades before retiring at the end of 2016, had submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for copies of contracts, board minutes and other documents dating back to July 1998. Some commissioners reported receiving letters with the same request from Mr. First at home. Mr. Bruno advised sending Mr. First copies of documents still available, but “we don’t have to reproduce” documents that no longer exist.

Mr. Mattice reported that over the summer garbage chutes had been “sanitized,” shower heads replaced with lower flow ones, and interior lights converted to LED bulbs. However, 16 of Bliss Tower’s 117 units have been taken “off line” because when their tenants moved out, “We found damage that makes them uninhabitable, unsafe to rent, dangerous.” As a result, Mr. Mattice said, “our rental income is decreasing dramatically,” though “we’re still receiving rent subsidies from HUD” for those units.

Fixing most of the off-line units will wait until next year’s rehabilitation of all units, which will start after the HHA public housing entity converts to an entity that allows investment by private capital. Meanwhile, the estimated uncollected rent debt written off for July 2017 through June 2018 rose from about $31,000 to $38,300.

Mr. Martin asked about the eight recently “modernized” units, and Mr. Mattice replied that all had been rented, sometimes to existing tenants who moved from “substandard” units.

There are “challenges with the condition of our units,” Mr. Mattice said.

The planned conversion is called RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration), and other public housing entities have undergone it, under auspices of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Under RAD, Mr. Mattice said, the HHA envisions creating an entity owned 40% by HHA and 60% by developers, to finance construction. This construction will not only fix substandard units but makeover all units and build more units across State Street. After all, Mr. Weaver said, “we want something pleasant for the tenants of the complex, while interesting to the City of Hudson and to visitors to Hudson. Not something that looks like it does now.”

The preliminary vision for the new construction includes 80 residential units in four-story-high buildings, with various income ranges allowed, and senior citizens strictly segregated in separate buildings from families. In fact, once the new units are ready, existing HHA tenants may be re-arranged among all the new-plus-existing buildings to conform to this vision.

Spokespeople for the proposed developer–Property Resources Corporation, and Duvernay & Brooks—came to the meeting, along with lawyer Dan Hubbell.

During construction, the spokespeople said, “Existing residents aren’t to be displaced. Tenants will be involved in the process.”

But what will happen to those whose apartments are undergoing construction, a Bliss tenant asked from the audience. “During the day, when the builders work, you’ll be able to come down to the lounge,” which will be made real nice, a spokesman said. And at night, when construction pauses, apartment toilets will work.

Also at the meeting, Mr. Mattice reported that details are still being worked out for an agreement with the Hudson Police Department for additional police and human services providers for satellite offices on Bliss premises.

Also at the September meeting Ms. Decker reported the distribution of school supplies at a Back to School event and under-way plans to arrange transportation for Christmas shopping.

The next meeting of the HHA is expected scheduled for Wednesday, October 10, at 6 p.m. in the Bliss Towers Community Room.

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