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Housing Authority tenants seek greater police presence

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HUDSON–Budgets, collection losses and police patrols dominated the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) meeting Wednesday, June 13. The HHA operates the high rise Bliss Tower and the low rise Columbia Apartments, which share grounds in Hudson State and Columbia streets at Second Street.

The HHA’s fiscal year runs July 1 through June 30. At the June 13 meeting, the board approved end-of-year revisions to the 2017-18 budget and adopted the 2018-19 budget. HHA Executive Director Tim Mattice said that the budget was not “written in stone,” thanks to the possibility of amendments.

The budget discussion focused on “collection losses,” which Mr. Mattice defined as “rent that tenants owe and don’t pay.” Since its inception, he said, the HHA has lost about $750,000 in this way. In 2017-18, he continued, the loss totaled $34,000; in the past 15 years it has averaged between $15,000 and $30,000, and in the similar places he canvassed it averaged between $20,000 and $30,000 a year. But for 2018-19, the HHA budgets only $12,000 for collection losses. When a board member wondered why, Mr. Mattice said that in October 2017, when he started his current position, “there was no enforcement in paying rent or arrears. Some tenants had $4,000 to $6,000 in rent overdue.”

Since then, “we’ve evicted a lot of people for criminal or drug charges and they happened to be the ones who owed the most rent. We gave some the choice of paying their debt or leaving, and many chose to leave.” The evictions affected 15 to 20 units.

The latest capital budget includes $180,000 for painting stairwells and other facilities, “modernizing” 10 empty units, and repairing parking lots.

“When are you putting a bench in the laundry room?” asked Tenant Commissioner Mary Decker.

“We found a bench for $400, but delivering it from Texas will cost $200,” said Mr. Mattice.

Meanwhile, the Board discussed a proposal for an agreement with the Hudson Police Department to provide “above baseline service.”

The Bliss grounds are part of the routine police rounds, but some stakeholders want additional patrols, which the HHA would have to pay for, because it would require police officers to work overtime.

“We’re relying on the tenants as to where and when” the extra patrols will happen, said board Chairman Alan Weaver.

Mr. Mattice said he would tell the police and “we’ll write a resolution.”

He also said that the purpose of paying for more police time would be “to control the crime that’s in the building.”

Board member Anthony Pastel, a defense lawyer, declared that stigmatizing Bliss is unfair. “This is a wonderful place! There’s a quiet minority victimized by a raucous element. Most crime is done by non-residents.” The police, he said, should come for “relationship building” and deterrence.

Ms. Decker reported that most criminal activity takes place on Fridays and Saturdays, between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., in the stairwells. Of Bliss Tower’s three stairways, one especially “has been used for drugs. You find needles there,” she said.

Tenants at a meeting wanted the extra police three times a week, Ms. Decker announced. She prefers Friday through Sunday during the evening. And, she stated, “What we do not want is a security guard.”

Mr. Pastel advised against “an arrest-heavy approach.”

“If someone is selling drugs in the stairway, he should be arrested!” said Mr. Weaver.

“We can put in the contract specs” the relative emphasis on “relational” verses looking to make arrests, said Mr. Mattice.

On a related matter, Ms. Decker asked, “Is a camera going to go to the police department?”

“That’s a technical problem that we can resolve,” said Mr. Mattice. A camera in Bliss Tower fed into the old police station on Warren Street but was not connected to the new police station on Union Street.

Board Vice President Randall Martin, a professional videographer, asked about installing an additional camera in the stairway. In fact, some cameras can see in the dark.

“Cameras are very expensive,” said Mr. Mattice. “I don’t know if they’ll be cost-efficient. Besides, a camera would be able to see only one part of the stairway. And since most crimes are done by non-residents, we won’t be able to identify 99% of the people the camera shows doing a crime. It’s better to keep doors to the stairway closed,” with signs suggesting that they are to be used for emergencies only.

Board member Peggy Polenberg expressed concern that “anyone can buzz anyone into the building.”

“You can open an electronic door by pulling hard enough,” said Mr. Martin. “How about locking side doors in the weekend.”

Also at the meeting, the board approved the Mental Health Partnership Agreement with the Columbia County Department of Human Services (DHS) to open a mental health clinic at Bliss Tower. The next step will be for the DHS to seek authorization for the clinic from the county Board of Supervisors. Its location within Bliss Towers will be worked out later.

At an earlier meeting, Ms. Decker suggested putting the clinic on an upper floor to reduce the chance of someone using it being seen doing so. The clinic would start as a pilot program for one year, operating about half a day a week.

The next meeting of the HHA Board will take place Wednesday, July 11, in the Bliss Tower community room, at 6:00 pm.

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