Housing chief resigns, Bliss rebuild inches ahead

HUDSON—As the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) seeks a new executive director, its preparations to build replacement housing for its tenants and demolish its existing buildings are “still on good track,” Revonda Smith, chair of HHA’s Board of Commissioners, confirmed on July 16.

The first step will be to issue a Request for Qualifications (RFQ), in order to find a co-developer for the project. On July 7, the HHA opened a public hearing on the RFQ, which it is drafting.  On July 14, HHA’s Executive Director Tim Mattice announced his resignation. On July 16, Ms. Smith said that Mr. Mattice will stay with the HHA until it finds his replacement. “We are uncertain how long it will take to get a new executive director,” she said, adding, “nothing has put us on hold.”

Ms. Smith also said that “at this time our RFQ and public hearing remain open.”

The HHA’s existing buildings consist of Bliss Tower and three low-rises on its grounds.  Together, the four buildings hold 135 apartments for low-income tenants.

A schedule posted in July envisions sending out the RFQ in August, “finalizing the project to be shovel ready” next March, and conversations between developers, residents, the Hudson Planning Board, and Hudson’s Common Council in between. Construction would be done in phases, with demolition “maybe in three years,” Board member Rebecca Borrer told people assembled for the start of the public hearing July 7. “The idea is to build replacement housing first.”

“We tell the developer how many apartments we need, and they tell us how to get them,” added another board member, Rebecca Wolff, who is also an Alderwoman in Hudson’s First Ward.

“Why tear the building down instead of renovating it?” a man at the hearing asked.

Because, replied Ms. Smith, “no one likes living in a building like this.”

She told the gathering, “I get complaints: ‘We can’t do this; we can’t do that.’”

“It’s clear to everyone here that we’ve reached a turning point in our public housing,” said Mr. Mattice.   “It’s outlived its usefulness,” he said, adding that other public housing authorities are “doing similar things.”

HHA tenants have been resettled elsewhere for about two years, and people at the meeting expressed concern that a new building will be gentrified and asked if the housing would change from low to mixed income.

Ms. Smith and Ms. Wolff assured the them that eligibility for living in the new building would remain at the same income level.

“We tell the developer how many apartments we need, and they tell us how to get them.

Alderwoman Rebecca Wolff (D-Hud., 1st Ward)

Member HHA board of Commissioners

“There’s a rumor going around that with the new development, residents will have to pay for their own electricity,” said Tiffany Garriga, Alderwoman of Hudson’s Second Ward, which includes the HHA property.

“We plan that everybody will get electricity included in their rent,” said Ms. Smith.

But Ms. Borrer noted, “a lot of questions we can’t answer until we get a co-developer.”

Residents know Bliss tenants must be out before demolition. “Where will we go?” asked a resident.

“You’ll definitely go on HHA property, so you won’t have to go far,” said Ms. Smith.

In addition to the land with Bliss and the neighboring low-rise apartments, the HHA owns land across State Street from the building. That land’s “soil conditions limit the density and height of any development,” according to the RFQ draft. The property currently has parking and recreational facilities.

“Is there enough land on HHA property to build replacement housing for all HHA residents before Bliss comes down?” asked another questioner.

Ms. Smith and Ms. Wolff answered that the HHA is looking to buy or negotiate the use of land from the HCDPA (Hudson Community Development and Planning Agency), “which owns several parcels.” Of particular interest is a parcel adjacent to HHA land on Front Street.

The HHA officials were asked if there are “models we can look to?”

“The Albany Housing Authority did it with some of their apartments,” Ms. Smith said.

Mr. Mattice said that one factor in deciding which developer to partner with would be whether the developer would provide opportunities “for our residents and local residents to get jobs in construction.”

Mr. Mattice suggested that the whole project could cost about $50 million, and somebody asked, “Is that enough?”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Mattice answered. “It depends on several factors, including finance charges.”

He added that during the redevelopment, “We want to maintain ownership and some level of control.”  However, the co-developer would “become a partner owner” and have a say in HHA decisions for 15 years.

The HHA converted to a RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) status last year. A main reason for the conversion was to raise enough money for needed maintenance and repairs by taking out loans from the private sector, Mr. Mattice had said in earlier meetings. On July 7 he added, that the “main reason” for RAD conversion was “we could leverage higher rent revenue.”

Before submitting the RFQ, the Housing Authority wants to get a better idea of whether it will buy the HCDPA land on Front Street and needs to transmit the draft RFQ to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for approval, Ms. Smith said on July 14.

The next formal HHA Board meeting will take place Wednesday, August 11, in the Bliss Tower community room. However, informal board committee meetings take place almost every Wednesday, and the public hearing on the RFQ remains open.

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