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HHA redevelopment story continues, questions get answered at May meeting

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By JEANETTE WOLFBERG

HUDSON–The Hudson Housing Authority (HHA) and its Redevelopment Partners acknowledged that inspection of the land they plan to build on first is yet to come, confirmed that about half the new apartments they plan to construct will be for people with higher incomes than current HHA tenants, noted that the new buildings will all stand lower than Bliss Tower, and depicted the redevelopment as including a public park, but they reminded everybody that all plans are preliminary and subject to change, at the HHA Board of Commissioners meeting May 20.

Site of Phase 1 construction. Photo by Jeanette Wolfberg

The HHA runs the 135-unit income- restricted Bliss Tower and Columbia Apartments. To redevelop its property, it has partnered with Mountco Construction and Development Corporation, which brought in Alexander Gorlin Architects. Based on requirements supplied by HHA and Mountco, Gorlin drew up a vision that includes demolishing HHA’s current buildings, erecting new buildings around a park, putting parking underground, and reconfiguring streets. To pursue that vision, the redevelopment partners divided construction into phases. Phase 1 would be built on land where no buildings already stand, resulting in enough apartments for HHA’s current residents. It is the phase for which the partners are seeking financing and permission. In recent weeks, attention has been put on getting support from the City of Hudson for a grant to demolish Bliss Tower and Columbia Apartments, which is envisioned to happen after Phase 1 construction (see the May 23 article). At the May 20 meeting, the redevelopment team clarified more details of the plan. Both Mountco and Gorlin officers attended, as did Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson and Common Council President Tom DePietro.

Phase 1 calls for building 153 apartments, 18 more than in HHA’s current buildings. Some new apartments would be in 3-story townhouses to be built on three parcels of land the City of Hudson has offered to sell to the HHA at half price. But 138 of the 153 would be in two apartment buildings, five and seven stories tall, erected on land the HHA already owns, across State Street from Bliss Tower. The new development would also include street-level commercial space and underground parking. The land currently has basketball and handball courts.

Ronald Kopnicki of Hudson asked whether Phase 1 land had already undergone a “site study.” Mountco’s Executive Vice President John Madeo answered that the study would occur when they were more certain what new structures the land would have to support. After all, Mr. Madeo emphasized, the proposed redevelopment plan is preliminary. It can undergo modifications in order to get approval from the state and the city, to get financing, and or as a result of community input.

In late 2018, HHA planned with a different developer to erect two four-story buildings with about 75 apartments combined, plus commercial space, built on that site. Then in early 2019, the plan was suspended, and the reason the HHA board gave was “the soil has been examined, and it’s an issue.”

Bliss Tower and Columbia Apartments could be demolished when Phase 1 buildings are finished. The demolition would clear land for Phase 2 construction. Before Phase 2 could proceed, it would need its own set of approvals and financing.

Phase 2 plus Phase 1 would result in a total of 315 new apartments. Mr. Madeo said they actually could put in “a lot more” than 315 units. When designing the project, Mountco asked the HHA how many apartments they wanted to end up with. “We knew we wanted to at least double the number of units,” recounted Board Chair Commissioner Revonda Smith. That would bring it up to 270. Mountco said they could round that number up, HHA gave the go-ahead, and Gorlin designed a proposal with 315 units.

Mountco’s Director of Development Eu Ting-Zambuto clarified at the May 20 meeting that of the 315 only about half will be for people who, like the HHA’s current residents, make up to 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI). The rest will be “Work Force” housing for people like “teachers, police officers, and firefighters,” said a partnership spokesperson.

Reasons include sociological and financial. “We wanted a mix of income types,” said Ms. Ting-Zambuto. Several people have spoken of sociological advantages of mixed income housing.

In addition, in 2020, HHA underwent RAD conversion, from public housing to “apartment buildings with a Section 8 contract,” Brian Alten of the BDO accounting firm explained by remote participation. The HHA got 135 Project-Based Section 8 vouchers, enough for its current residents. The redevelopment team is trying to increase the number of vouchers, said Ms. Ting-Zambuto, but it seems like the best they can reasonably hope for is eight more for each phase.

Furthermore, from higher income tenants, the HHA can get higher rent, which will bring in more needed revenue. HHA’s “revenue barely covers expenses,” said Ms. Ting-Zambuto. “The difference between getting $1,100 per unit and $600 per unit is financial security.”

Someone asked, “Do you need to add so many more units? Will the city’s infrastructure be able to tolerate it?”

Commissioner Rebecca Wolff pointed out that Hudson used to have many more residents. (In 2020, Hudson had 5,894 thousand residents, about 85% less than the 1960 population of 10,955.)

In earlier meetings, HHA officials said that one reason for increasing the number of apartments is because the waiting list to get into HHA’s current buildings is so long. When asked whether people already on the waiting list would be eligible for one of the additional apartments, despite incomes in the range for the old apartments, HHA and Mountco officials said they would look into that.

The tallest new buildings will have seven stories, two fewer than Bliss Tower, but they will stand 18 feet lower, said Alexander Gorlin, owner of the firm bearing his name. Still, the new apartments’ ceilings will be 8 and a half feet, while Bliss’ are only 8 feet high. The slabs between the stories will be thinner in the new buildings, because “concrete is more efficient” than before.

When Bliss and Columbia Apartments come down, plans aim to build three additional new buildings on their site. Gorlin Architects drew a vision with all five new buildings around almost two acres of what they called “park.” Project Architect Quncie Williams and Mr. Gorlin called the proposed green space “a courtyard for the city of Hudson. We wanted the amenity of the park. A community where children can play. There are benefits to having nature around. Trees benefit life.” They said it would be twice as big as “the park on the other side of Warren.”

The park would straddle State Street, which would be closed to most vehicular traffic for a block. However, First Street would be extended a block (between Bliss land and Schuyler Court) and during town house construction, Lombard Street would be revived between State and Dock streets.

“We specialize in affordable housing around the United States,” said Mr. Gorlin.

“We are forward thinking,” said HHA Executive Director Jeffrey Dodson. “We’re not looking at the past, but we’re in the middle of fixing something that is very broken.”

Somebody asked whether the new project would “serve the people who live there and serve the community.”

“Everybody supports replacing Bliss so that its 135 residents will have better living conditions,” said Commissioner Claire Cousin, who is vice chair of the HHA Board, supervisor of Hudson’s First Ward, and running for State Assembly. The current buildings, she said, are “substandard and crumbling.” Furthermore, the people who live there “have had board after board promise to do something.” This time, “we want them to see the process through.”

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