HUDSON–Two meetings January 17 focused on plans to construct two four-story income-restricted residential buildings in Hudson across State Street from Bliss Tower.
The first meeting, run by the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA), was for the HHA Board of Commissioners to approve a Master Development Agreement related to the construction. The second, run by the Hudson Common Council’s Economic Development Committee, was for a developer to present the envisioned construction to the committee.
The Master Development Agreement is between the HHA and a development team—Property Resources Corporations (PRC) of White Plains and Duvernay + Brooks, a real estate development and finance consulting firm in Manhattan. The agreement allows the HHA and the companies to continue exploring a partnership with each other for construction and the HHA’s upcoming conversion from public housing program to a public-private partnership. This agreement is preliminary and either partner could drop out without penalty.
The HHA meeting at Bliss Tower began with a community discussion and then the HHA board withdrew into a closed-door executive session, while the community continued discussions in hallways and the laundry room. When the meeting reconvened in public, the HHA voted to accept the development agreement and adjourned so that officials and the public could go to City Hall for the Common Council committee meeting.
The HHA owns both the 135-apartment Bliss public housing complex and the site slated for new construction. The Bliss complex contains 120 apartments in Bliss Tower and 15 apartments in three low rise buildings on its grounds.
At the Bliss meeting after the executive session, Ifetayo Cobbins said, “I feel that the meeting notice was not broadcast soon enough to enough people. And now you had your long secret society meeting, while we met with each other in the hall. What are you hiding?” she said she and others had arrived at 5 p.m., when the meeting started, “and now we have limited time to speak, because you’re going to speak to the elite.”
Another woman added to the criticism, saying to the HHA board, “You have been talking about this among yourselves while getting the impression that your words are seeping out to us.”
“We also had a meeting last week that discussed the same thing,” said Alan Weaver, president of the HHA Board.
“We, as a board, have been working on this 18 months,” said Randall Martin, vice president of the board. “We’ve had about 18 meetings. We work very, very hard to make this building a good experience for the community. We’ve had nothing but the best interest of the tenants.”
“Don’t call all poor people illiterate or addicts,” said another woman. “Most people want to live in something affordable and healthful. What I don’t agree with is stacking people on top of each other. To be stacked is not a good way to live. This one little area will look like New York City. It will take away from the beauty of Hudson. We have enough large buildings with Bliss Tower and Providence Hall. And new housing should be rent to own.”
At the City Hall meeting, Duvernay + Brooks Managing Director Brian N. Heeger presented the construction project, and the audience asked questions. The project includes both erecting the new buildings and reconstructing the 120 apartments in the high rise Bliss Tower.
”What about the low rises?” asked Don Moore, a former county supervisor and common council president.
“Rehabilitating those 15 units is not on the plans now,” said Mr. Heeger. “They can be discussed for future plans.”
This was news to people who had the impression from previous meetings that the Bliss reconstruction would include the low-rises. But Mr. Moore said he had suspected all along that the plan would exclude the low rise units. This exclusion, he had said in an interview January 15, would be “unfair to families who live in the low rise.”
He suggested that people should pressure city authorities “to go on to Phase 2 quickly.”
Phase 2 involves demolishing the low rises and erecting on their grounds larger buildings with up to 80 apartments. HHA officials have repeatedly said that it is not planned.
The State Environmental Quality Review for Phase 1 includes Phase 2. HHA officials say the second phase is included only because the state requires consideration of any conceivable future plans.
“Phase 2 is highly speculative,” Dan Hubbell, legal counsel for mixed finance development, told the City Hall meeting. He maintained that “many apartments in the low rise buildings are in poor condition and unoccupied.” In other low-rise apartments “people are ‘over housed’; their apartments have too many rooms for their family size.
Of the 15 apartments, he said, “Only two are occupied by families who are suited for them, and they will be able to stay until they leave.”
Still, some people are taking Phase 2 seriously. “First they started with 40 new units, then going to 75 units, now there’s the potential for 150,” said a Hudson real estate broker. “I think this development is completely out of scale for the size of this city.”
Even the 73 new households planned for Phase 1 “will need services without 73 households worth of taxes,” said Hudson architect Matthew Frederick. “How will we afford it?”
But Mr. Frederick continued, saying, “State Street needs buildings. Beyond 2nd Street, State Street is safe, but it feels unsafe. We should look at this as an opportunity. A chance to create a cityscape.”