New city housing slate aims for safety, affordability

HUDSON–New officers, less in written-off debts, Section 8 vouchers, and bugs received attention at the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) Board of Commissioners meeting September 11. The HHA runs the 135-unit, income-restricted Bliss apartments and administers federal Section 8 vouchers for housing elsewhere in Hudson.

The HHA Board selected Randall Martin to be its chair, Marie Balle vice-chair and Peggy Polenberg treasurer for the 2019-20 year, effective as of the next meeting. Mr. Martin, a videographer, has been the vice-chair. He will replace Chairman Alan Weaver. Ms. Balle, a partner at the Look Apparel store in Hudson, has been on the board since last November. Ms. Polenberg has been treasurer for a year.

Mr. Martin later said his goals as chairman include the rehabilitation and stabilization of Bliss apartments “to make sure they are safe for the inhabitants”; more transparency between the board and the public; and to work with the city to create additional affordable housing.”

HHA Executive Director Tim Mattice announced that the HHA has hired a part time accountant, Brenda Schermerhorn. She replaces Sue McNamee but with additional duties.

The board passed a resolution agreeing to write off—by giving up trying to collect–$19,098 in unpaid rent owed by people who were evicted or left for other reasons. This is a decrease from last year’s write off of about $36,000.

“Have we considered a collection agency?” asked Ms. Polenberg.

“No,” answered Mr. Weaver.

“Do you know who they are?” asked Ms. Polenberg.

“Yes,” Mr. Mattice said.

The board increased the maximum amount HHA Section 8 vouchers may pay to 110% of the standard. The change means $1,029 for a two-bedroom apartment. The HHA will notify applicants for HHA vouchers of this change by letter, Mr. Mattice said. The HHA has 131 vouchers, but only 60 are in use, despite a waiting list three years long. “There’s not enough rental housing for Section 8 people to go around,” said Mr. Mattice. Many rents in Hudson are so high that the section 8 voucher plus what the tenant can pay still falls short of them. Mr. Mattice said he hopes the voucher increase will allow the activation of more vouchers.

“There’s a lot of interest,” Mr. Mattice said. “There are advantages of Section 8. You can live anywhere you want. You can use it as a down payment on a house.”

“Let’s see if this works,” said Ms. Balle.

From the audience, Mary Ann Gazzola recommended that the HHA allow clients to use its vouchers outside of Hudson. Mr. Mattice said there is a Columbia County Section 8 program for housing vouchers around the county. And many people apply for both HHA and County vouchers, Ms. Balle noted. That would allow them to choose wherever housing becomes available first. She added that outside of Hudson, the lack of public transportation is a problem for people seeking low-income housing.

The County Section 8 program, managed by the NY State Housing Community Renewal, had 380 vouchers and a waiting list of 3-to-6 months, the agency’s director, Dale-Ann Brown, said last October.

Turning to another topic at last week’s meeting, a Bliss resident told the board, “Last month and this month you bombed my apartment for cockroaches, my apartment and another got an extra treatment, I was bombed Monday, and I still have bugs. It seems like what you’re using isn’t doing the job.” In addition, to prepare for each extermination, “I had to clean out all cupboards and the refrigerator and leave the apartment,” she said.

“Come into my office tomorrow,” advised Mr. Mattice.

Some minutes earlier, a black bug had slowly crawled across the white floor in front of a row of audience seats.

On the plan to convert the HHA from public housing to a RAD partnership, where a private company gets partial ownership in exchange for financing maintenance and repairs, Mr. Mattice said, “We’re still moving forward. The closing might be in October or November. “

One advantage of RAD conversion, Mr. Mattice said, is that HHA will get a fixed subsidy per month. Right now, “we don’t know we’ll get each month.” This makes it harder for HHA to budget.

Several factors determine a public housing authority’s subsidy from the government each month, but one is that the more energy used, the greater the subsidy. “It should be the other way,” said Ms. Balle.

Also at the meeting:

• Commissioner Robert Davis, a tenant in Bliss Tower, received thanks from Mr. Mattice for his role in sprucing up the community center, including contributing a new fish tank, whose small inhabitants swam back and forth during the meeting. “Robert is a great advocate and representative of this building. I’m glad to have him here,” Mr. Mattice said.

Carol Osterink, who writes the online site Gossips of Rivertown,” asked, “Do you have a new plan for renovation and construction?”

Mr. Weaver said no but added, “We’re discussing” the next steps, and that the plan is on the agenda for executive session. “Right now the plan is to renovate the facilities.”

Recently, the HHA planned to construct two four-story residential buildings across State Street from Bliss. But, as County Supervisor Michael Chameides (D-Hudson, 3rd Ward) explained September 7 at a Youth Forum on Housing, the developer pulled out because of both public opposition and soil problems.

However, the HHA has been awarded $800,000 from state Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) funds to expand housing.

The next HHA meeting will take place Wednesday, October 9, at 6 p.m. in the Bliss Towers community center.

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