Private firm to own Bliss Tower

HUDSON–The Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) and its Board of Commissioners met November 14, welcoming a new commissioner and announcing that the authority is negotiating a deal that will transfer majority ownership of Bliss Tower and Columbia Apartments–a prominent low-income housing complex in Hudson–to a private real estate development company.

HHA Executive Director Tim Mattice said at the meeting that the housing authority has “just submitted an application to convert” its status from public housing to a Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD). The conversion will require tenants to sign new leases and their apartments will undergo reconstruction, but Mr. Mattice emphasized the current tenants could stay.

“There will be very little will change for existing residents,” Mr. Mattice told the audience. “You will be grandfathered. We don’t want anybody to be fearful. You can always come down to my office to talk to me if you have questions. My personal mission is to make sure everyone’s housing is secure for the long term.”

RAD gives the private sector opportunities to make money from structures built as public housing, by contributing to capital funds–including money for needed repairs–that Congress has not provided. It started in other cities in about 2012, Mr. Mattice said, but recently he got a letter from U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson saying what Mr. Mattice described as the equivalent of: “Hurry up and convert!”

After conversion, “We’re going to be co-owners,” said Mr. Mattice, with 40% owned by the HHA, and 60% owned by Property Resources Corporation (PRC)–a private for-profit company that owns “over 2,000 units of housing, mainly in the Bronx, with some in Yonkers and New Rochelle,” he said. HHA will own the land; PRC will own the buildings. After PRC’s 15-year compliance period, HHA will have the right of first refusal to purchase the buildings from PRC.

The company’s website describes PRC as a “real estate development, construction, property management, and acquisitions firm established in 1971.” It says the company manages over 100 buildings containing approximately 5,000 units,” of which it owns about 2,000.

The PRC website says the company’s portfolio includes low-income, middle-income and “high-end luxury” rentals, co-ops and condominiums.

In response to a question from the audience, Mr. Mattice said that bidding had already taken place and PRC had won.

Other changes with RAD include:

• “Decisions will have to have approval of both the HHA Board and PRC,” said Dan Hubbell, legal counsel for RAD and construction matters. “You make decisions based on what’s good for the residents. PRC will make decisions based on what’s good for them.”

“So if the roof needs fixing, we can vote to fix it but it will mean nothing unless PRC also approves it?” hypothesized HHA Board Vice President Randall Martin.

“We essentially made our decisions unilaterally. Now we’re going to have to cooperate,” said Mr. Mattice

• Residents will become federal Section 8 tenants instead of public housing tenants

• PRC and the HHA Board will communicate with each other through Mr. Mattice

• The PRC will receive rent money and pay some fees to HHA.

“What if PRC says, ‘We aren’t getting as much as we could get, so we want to turn this into condos,’?” asked a woman in the audience.

Mr. Mattice and Board Chairman Alan Weaver said they were trying to guard against that.

“So if PRC is sinking, they can’t just sell off the apartments?” asked a man in the audience.

“Right,” said Mr. Mattice. “If something happens to PRC, we want to change to another company.”

HHA tenants had received invitations to come to the meeting and talk about the RAD conversion, and the audience was larger than usual, though it still fit comfortably into the meeting room. But the “RAD Resident meeting” was just one of the board’s agenda items, and officials began that item with long introductory remarks, during which residents who attempted to speak were told to wait. Some questions went unanswered.

Mr. Mattice kept emphasizing RAD’s actual and perceived rewards: not merely basic repairs but also the bigger project of both enlarging HHA’s community by 80 apartments in a project called State Street Apartments and rebuilding existing apartments at Bliss. “We do not propose to relocate anyone during the rebuild.” said Mr. Mattice.

“Thank-you,” came a voice from the audience.

“How do private companies get the $50 million they’re using for the project?” asked Commissioner Peggy Polenberg.

Tax credits, government grants and some bank loans, answered Mr. Mattice.

“The PRC guarantees financing, but what happens if it isn’t able to pay back the loans?” asked Marie Balle, who was attending her first HHA board meeting as a commissioner. “It happens in England all the time.”

“That’s something we’re working out with the legal agreement,” said Mr. Hubbell.

A partner at Look Apparel in Hudson, Ms. Balle has lived in Hudson nine years and grew up in Columbia County. She said her goals on the board are “to ensure that the city’s affordable housing stock remains affordable.”

Also at the meeting, Tenant Commissioners Mary Decker and Robert Davis said children had “a beautiful time” at the Halloween party, and plans were underway for a Christmas party. Mr. Weaver suggested forming a tenants’ association, a man on behalf of the Hudson Development Corporation offered to sponsor it, and residents and officials began discussing such an association, with or without sponsorship.

The next meeting of the HHA Board of Commissioners will take place Wednesday, December 12 at 6 p.m. at the Bliss Tower community room.

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