The crowd that assembled at City Hall on Monday night to hear the Lantern Organization present their proposal for Fifth and Warren was reminiscent of the SLC days: standing room only, with the crowd spilling out into the hallway. There were the people often seen at Common Council meetings--Victor Mendolia, Hilary Hillman, Linda Mussmann, Billy Hughes--and those who only show up when the issue is so urgent they cannot stay away--most notably, Lynn Davis.
The project has been talked about as a homeless shelter and transitional housing, but Jessica Katz, Executive Director for the Lantern Organization, was emphatic that the proposed building would not be a transitional housing facility. Rather, it would provide "permanent supportive housing" for the mentally disabled, the homeless, and those with substance abuse problems. Tenants would have leases and pay 30 percent of their income in rent, whatever their income might be--VA benefits, SSI, SSDI, or wages from work. All the apartments would be "studio apartments," which Victor Mendolia adamantly asserted was the same as an SRO (single room occupancy). Katz took issue with this, stating that the studio apartments Lantern was proposing would have their own kitchens and bathrooms, whereas in SROs, kitchens and bathrooms are shared.
The overwhelming sentiment expressed at the meeting by members of the public was that this proposal was a remarkably inappropriate idea--not because it aspired to help the people most in need, but because it intends to do this in the middle of Hudson's developing--but still fragile--commercial district. Phil Forman used the words stupid and cynical to describe the proposal. His concerns about the project jeopardizing Warren Street's fragile and hard-won status as a destination were echoed by others during the two-hour meeting. Peter Jung was the first to raise the issue of property taxes: Does it make sense to settle for less than $10,000 annually in property taxes for a "primo location" on Warren Street? Harry Laughlin, basing his comments on his experiences in Manhattan, defined who would be occupying the 33 studio apartments in the building: single men with social problems such as alcoholism and drug addiction. Such people, he predicted, would need "24-hour wrap-around services" to prevent them from falling back into homelessness and other problems, and Lantern has no plans to provide such services. Common Council President Don Moore pointed out that although the Lantern Organization has sixty-one people on staff in New York City, there would be no Lantern support staff in Hudson and no one who would be paid by Lantern to provide services. Instead the Lantern Organization would be relying on local agencies, such as Columbia Opportunities, to provide the support needed for the building's tenants.
Gail Walker--wife of Kevin Walker, who is employed by Eric Galloway and would be clerk of the works for this project--made an emotional appeal for the building, reading an email from her brother, who one inferred from her comments may be bipolar, and identifying him as an example of the kind of tenant the building would serve. Responding to Walker's comments, Hilary Hillman revealed she also had a brother with mental health issues, who had lived in a similar building, but, she pointed out, the building was smaller than the one proposed for Fifth and Warren, and it was located in Portland, Oregon--a city of a million people--not in Hudson--a city of fewer than seven thousand. The problems of density and context were themes echoed by several other speakers.
Another concern raised by several at the meeting, including Third Ward Alderman Ellen Thurston, was the scope of the needs study Lantern used for the project. Was this Hudson taking care of its own people in need, or was this Hudson having to shoulder the burden for all of Columbia County and perhaps Greene County as well?
Toward the end of the meeting, First Ward Alderman Geeta Cheddie asked, "If not Fifth and Warren, where?" The answer came swiftly from several members of the audience, "Fourth and Columbia"--a lot also owned by Eric Galloway. Mayor Scalera was quick to remind people that, if DSS (Department of Social Services) was to remain in Hudson, that was the site where, according to his "Plan B," the building would have to go. Fifth Ward Alderman Robert Donahue revealed that there was to be a meeting the next morning with BBL, the construction firm that brought us the central firehouse and the county health building on Columbia Street, but Scalera pointed out emphatically that the meeting with BBL was not open to the public.
An important point made by Scalera at the end of Monday night's meeting was that the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) looked at community support for the projects they fund and would be unlikely to give low-income housing credits to this project without a resolution of support from the Common Council. Very likely, the Common Council will be considering such a resolution at their formal meeting on April 20.
The Lantern Organization is scheduled to make a presentation to the Planning Commission on Wednesday, April 14, at 7:00 p.m., and will go before the Historic Preservation Commission at their next meeting on the second Friday in May at 10:00 a.m.
If the Starboard project were to go forward, Katz said it would begin a year from now with a predicted 18-month construction time.