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Tower residents have special interest in this lobby

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HUDSON– Workers are starting to renovate the lobby of Bliss Towers, though officials and residents have begun to consider what might replace the 36-year-old, 9-story subsidized housing complex.

Financing for the lobby improvements comes from $250,000 in federal economic stimulus funds for this project, which had been on the drawing board for 10 years. Work is scheduled for completion in September. And while the repairs are needed, planners, city leaders and tenants met in April to discuss the future of the tower, which has high maintenance costs and is inefficient by modern energy standards. The high-rise building along with a surrounding complex of low-rise units comprises Hudson’s only public housing development.

Asked why the lobby was being fixed if the building really ought to be replaced, Jeff First, executive director of the Hudson Housing Authority, said that even if a plan is launched to replace the Bliss Towers with new townhouse units, the new housing might be ready for occupancy for a decade or more, depending on when, or even whether, the city received a federal grant to build the units.

The roof was replaced 10 years ago, plumbing must repaired as pipes separate and the exterior has been resealed two or three times, at a cost of $250,00 each time. Maintenance over the 36-year life of the building has cost taxpayers $175 million overall in a process Mr. First calls “throwing good money after bad.”

To bring the building up to new, green energy standards would be much more expensive than starting over with new construction, housing experts said in April. That approach would cost over $100,000 per unit.

Whatever the fate of the building, housing officials say that a well maintained building is a safe building, and a tour guided by Mr. First last week revealed spotless, well-lit hallways, gleaming linoleum floors, public spaces cooled by a central fan system, secure doors and well kept grounds, all monitored by video 24/7. “Crime calls are rare to non-existent,” he said.

When the current work is done, a new administrative office will be located off the main lobby next to the front door, elevators, and security cubicle.

Recipients of federal economic stimulus package funds are required to purchase building materials made in the United States, a rule that applies to everything from tiles, sheetrock and paint to air conditioning units. But according to Mr. First, this rule has raised costs and slowed the pace of the renovation.  Although he approves of the initiative intended to bolster American business, he says that it is not easy to find the materials, and a one-and-a-half-year time limit on procurement doesn’t allow time for new companies to start up to help builders meet the mandate. A construction firm from Castleton is doing the work.

Some tenants, perhaps a majority of the 325 people who currently reside at Bliss Towers, don’t want to move, despite the prospect of having a new, 20%-larger home for the same rent and greater energy savings. The new units would be low-rise, and some tenants have said they would hate to lose their views, which are arguably the best in Hudson.

Bliss Towers facts

HUDSON–The nine-story, government-funded Bliss Towers apartment building, which was built in the mid-1970s, usually has between 300 and 350 tenants; there were 325 residents there at the beginning of this month. There are currently 5 vacancies.

* There are 15 units per floor on most floors: eight one-bedroom units, four two-bedroom units and three three-bedroom units. Some floors have stores, offices or storage, since there is no basement or other area to house such public facilities.

*Eligibility is determined by income, said Susan McNamee at Hudson Housing Authority.  A single person must earn below $36,600 annually; a family of eight can earn up to $69,050, though rarely does anyone come along who earns anything close to those amounts, she said.

* Rent based on income, not the size of an apartment. If a tenant loses his or her job, the tenant must still pay at least the minimum rent of $50 per month.

*As of last December, the average rent paid was $269 a unit.

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