HUDSON—“We have not decided what to do about Columbia Apartments,” Marie Balle, chair of the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA), told the Board of Commissioners. She was referring to three low-rise buildings that together hold fifteen apartments adjacent to the nine-story Bliss Tower.
Speaking at the board meeting December 9, she said, “We need to ask whether to build new.”
“Build new! And better,” responded Tiffany Garriga (D), Alderwoman from Hudson’s 2nd Ward, which includes the Bliss housing.
HHA runs both the three Columbia Apartments buildings and Bliss Tower, for a total of one hundred thirty-five income-restricted apartments in the four buildings combined. Of these apartments, 25 are currently “off-line” and could become available for rent only after undergoing repairs and upgrades. Nineteen of the twenty-five offline apartments are in Bliss Tower and six are in Columbia Apartments. Off-line apartments make up 16% of the 120 units at Bliss; at Columbia Apartments 40% of the 15 units are not suitable to rent.
Seven units—all of them in Bliss Tower—could be brought online by the end of January using the HHA’s existing operating funds, said HHA Executive Director Tim Mattice. The other eighteen, including all six in Columbia Apartments, could cost at least $50,000 per apartment to make habitable, he estimated. Repairs to the larger apartments in Columbia Apartments could cost from $80,000 to $100,000 each.
“Are you talking about demolishing Columbia Apartments?” asked Rebecca Wolff (D), who is both an HHA commissioner and an Alderwoman for Hudson’s First Ward.
“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this until we have more information,” Ms. Balle said.
The seven “easy” off-line apartments need new floors, painting, repairs to window frames and deep cleaning. The 18 other apartments need all these plus “gut rehabilitation.”
The HHA has already spent money on materials for the seven easiest-to-repair apartments and is storing the materials on site.
Fixing the 18 “difficult” apartments will require a loan, which the HHA is applying for.
Some commissioners toured the off-line apartments November 30 and December 9 and Commissioner Rebecca Borrer presented a report on what the commissioners found. Some of their observations could affect online apartments as well.
‘This is not willful local neglect. This is a question of not having the money to make repairs.’
Comm. Marie Balle, chair
Hudson Housing Authority
For both Bliss Tower and Columbia Apartments, issues include asbestos in flooring and water damage and leaks in some apartments.
Floor tiles, the plywood sub-floor and their glue contain asbestos. The best way to minimize exposure is to cover the tiles with a new “floating” layer of flooring.
Ms. Balle said that water damage can come from either the roof or the exterior. Of these, the roof is easier to fix.
If the sources stay unplugged, the water comes again, observed Ms. Borrer.
Participants in the December 9 tour reported a Columbia Apartments unit where snow came in through a hole in the roof.
At Bliss, window frames were made with of a type of plastic that, “after prolongued use, can have sharp and jagged edges from portions breaking off,” Ms. Borrer said.
“I can’t tell you how many people have gone to Columbia Memorial Hospital because of window frame splinters in their fingers,” said Ms. Garriga. But she said they did not tell the HHA office about the problem for fear of eviction.
Additional issues for Bliss Tower include:
• In in multiple apartments, floor heating units are missing covers
• The building is faced with “fractured split rock,” which traps water. “Trapping water inside walls would be a disaster,” said Ms. Wolff. “It would promote mold”
• Some apartments have slanting floors
• The top of the building has cracks.
Additional issues for Columbia Apartments include:
• Electrical outlets broken or not functioning
• Plumbing issues
• Separate separate boilers for each apartment
• Some plywood sub-floors that do not stay nailed down
“I’m very impressed,” said Ms. Garriga. “I want to thank you board members for bringing up the issues. I’ve been bringing them up for years.” The alderwoman said the responses she got were to “look at the beautiful tile” HHA put over damaged tile.
She expressed hope that new board members could improve conditions. Five of the seven commissioners have held their positions for less than a year.
Later, Ms. Balle said, “I want everyone to realize that this is not willful local neglect. This is a question of not having the money to make repairs.” To get the money, the HHA is forced to take out loans, which it could get only by converting from public housing to a status called RAD, which allows the private sector to make a profit from the housing. HHA underwent the conversion last year.
“How long did the people who built the Bliss building expect it to last? Certainly, not 100 years. But here we are 50 years later,” Ms. Balle mused.
This is not the first time Columbia Apartments have faced a more uncertain future than Bliss Tower. In the winter of 2018-19, the housing authority HHA considered partnering with developers to build additional apartment buildings on HHA land and to rehabilitate all 120 Bliss apartments (even the habitable ones). Rehabilitating Columbia Apartments was not in that plan. The deal did not proceed for a variety of reasons.
But Columbia Apartments have a purpose. Some of them have multiple bedrooms for families who need them.
Also at the meeting:
• Ms. Garriga said that painting of occupied apartments has been done less frequently than New York State calls for. Mr. Mattice said the HHA recently completed cycle of painting about 40 apartments
• Ms. Borrer noticed that HHA is not spending “all the money we allocated for extermination,” although bugs in apartments continues to be an issue. Pestech Pest Solutions of Kingston told her they want three months to try a new technique on HHA apartments, she reported. Ms. Balle said there should be an update on the bug issue every month
• Mr. Mattice and the oard discussed the possibility of hiring a part time accountant, a non-resident security officer, and someone to transcribe meetings
• Representatives of a bank the HHA is considering borrowing from discussed two loans: one for about a year, borrowing between $1 million and $1.5 million for bringing apartments online; and one for 35 years, of $3 million to $4 million dollars with a pre-payment penalty and where “the collateral is the property itself.”
Commissioner Claire Cousin reminded the board to talk to other RAD properties with loans “before we make a major decision.”
The next meeting of the HHA Board will take place Wednesday, January 13 at 6 p.m.