Public hears more details on Bliss housing upgrades

HUDSON–Reconstruction of Hudson’s Bliss housing and new construction across State Street from it dominated the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) Board of Commissioners meeting December 12.

The HHA owns both sites. Bliss contains 135 low-income apartments: 120 in Bliss Tower (9 stories), and 15 at the Columbia Apartments (three 2-story buildings on the same grounds). The site across the street currently has a playground, a basketball court and a handball court. The HHA, like many of the nation’s other housing authorities, is preparing to convert from public housing to a RAD (rental assistance demonstration) partnership with the private sector.

The bid winner for RAD partnership with the HHA is Property Resources Corporation (PRC), is a real estate development, construction, and property management firm based in New York City.

In return for contributing to basic maintenance and repairs of the Bliss units, PRC will get a developer’s fee, a construction project to justify the fee, 60% ownership for 15 years, and a say in HHA policies. The construction project will include remodeling Bliss—both the interior and the exterior—and building on the land across the street.

Peter Clements, an architect with PRC, said the company hoped to close the deal in June 2019 and work on both sites simultaneously. Construction time may take a year and a half.

Mr. Clements said all the Bliss apartments are going to keep their current size and number of bedrooms. But bathrooms and kitchens will be rebuilt, with new cabinets and appliances, and all windows will be replaced. In addition, since the apartments designated for people with disabilities must have larger kitchens and bathrooms, other rooms in those apartments will lose space. How to upgrade the heating, cooling and ventilation systems is still under study and is not included in plan.

“And no displacement?” asked Randall Martin, vice president of the HHA Board.

“We might temporarily move people” from apartments undergoing reconstruction to those already reconstructed, answered HHA Executive Director Tim Mattice, who had said at previous meetings that the reconstruction would require no relocation of existing Bliss tenants. Reconstruction is likely to start with 20 currently-unoccupied units.

Bliss Tower’s ground floor will be totally rearranged, with the new laundry room twice as large, and HHA offices moving out to a new “family” building.

Bliss Tower’s exterior appeared on a poster clad in wide alternating dark and light vertical strips. When Mr. Martin asked about the “water penetration issue,” Mr. Clements said that re-cladding the exterior “will completely address it.”

Regarding the grounds, Mr. Clements said, “There’s not a lot of integrity to the soil,” and hinted at a “geotech” solution.

Marie Balle, an HHA commissioner, wondered whether the jolts and booms from building State Street Apartments will aggravate existing structural integrity problems.

Although current plans leave Columbia Apartments intact, Mr. Clements said that for Planning Board purposes, the project might have a Phase 2, in which Columbia Apartments might be replaced with bigger buildings. But he emphasized that, as of now, this was not a plan, not even an alternate plan.

The new construction across State Street from Bliss is to consist of two 4-story residential buildings known as State Street Apartments. One, on the corner, is have commercial space on the bottom and 33 apartments for senior citizens. The other is to have 40 apartments for “families.” Both buildings will alternate between “brick” and “clapboard” exterior cladding.

For constructing these buildings, HHA and PRC will partner with developer Duvernay & Brooks. In addition, Mr. Clements said, “We’ve brought about a consultant for green buildings—energy efficiency, water usage, etc.”

“Are the new units going to be market rate?” asked a woman in the audience.

“No, they will all be affordable,” answered Mr. Mattice.

An October presentation about State Street Apartments said that the family building would be for “mixed moderate” incomes, which is not as low income as the units in Bliss.

Once construction is completed, seniors currently living in Bliss will be offered the option of moving into the senior building. But they will not be forced to do so, Alan Weaver, chairman of the HHA Board assured the audience at the December 12, meeting.

A presentation October 30 showed 36 units in the senior building, 42 units in the family building, with all “brick” exterior cladding. Since then, the decision was made to replace some senior studios with one-bedroom units, reducing the total number of apartments. In addition, the clapboard cladding will be used, which was said to be less expensive than brick. “Some people said the buildings looked monolithic and wanted them to look more residential,” said Mr. Mattice.

“What you have looks fantastic on paper, but it still promotes an atmosphere for drugs,” said a woman in the audience. “It’s still stacking people on top of each other. What about little houses that people can buy?”

“That’s a fantastic idea,” said Mr. Mattice.

“How about ground floor units with stoops to the street, so adults can sit out on the front,” suggested Matthew Frederick, an architect who lives on Union Street in Hudson. “You can still have a main entrance. But there would be more entrances.”

Also at the December 12 meeting, the housing board announced the resignation of Commissioner Mary Decker. “I think we should expedite her replacement,” said Mr. Martin. This resignation is the second in two months. It left the board with only five commissioners, one of whom is a tenant commissioner.

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