Bliss Towers is a perennial topic of conversation in political circles. Back in 2003, when HOPE VI funds were still flowing, Linda Mussmann's second mayoral run was put in jeopardy with some Second Ward voters by the suggestion that it was time for Bliss Towers, Hudson's 1970s era public housing project, to come down. Last year, presented by different messengers, Wanda Pertilla and Billy Hughes, the idea that Bliss Towers could be replaced by something else resurfaced, and this time it seemed more palatable.
There have been a couple of meetings about the fate of Bliss Towers and the future of its tenants since the topic resurfaced. In April, I got myself invited to the second of those meetings, which was described as a charette--"the beginning of an integrated design process." It was a puzzling meeting, since the goals didn't seem all that clear and there were as many presenters as there were presentees. Among the presenters were representatives from Omni Housing Development, an affordable housing development company headquartered in Albany; New Ecology, a Boston-based not-for-profit; and CK Dennis Architect, an architectural firm based in Loudonville. Among the presentees were Mayor Scalera, Billy Hughes, and a few other elected officials, as well as Jeff First, the executive director of the City of Hudson Housing Authority, and a handful of Bliss Towers residents.
The meeting went on all day, and I only stayed for the morning session, but here's what I learned in that time. It has been decided that Bliss Towers, which was built in 1973, needs either significant renovation or replacement. To take advantage of the next opportunity for funding, the decision to rehab or replace needs to be made by the end of the summer. The decision makers are the six City of Hudson Housing Authority Commissioners: Lyle Shook, former Second Ward alderman; George DeJesus, chair of the Hudson Republican Committee; and four tenants of Bliss Towers. Relevant to the decision, it would seem, is the fact that stimulus funds are currently being invested in Bliss Towers to renovate the lobby and the offices. Making it easier, perhaps, to decide to demolish a building in which public funds have just been invested is the conventional wisdom, shared at the meeting, that "renovation is more expensive than to build new" and that "it is easier to get HUD to fund a replacement than a renovation." It's interesting to note that in the early part of this decade, when the HOPE VI program was still active, HUD determined that Bliss Towers was not distressed enough to qualify for HOPE VI funding.
Although the decision to rehab or replace Bliss Towers has not yet been made, some are of the opinion the Housing Authority will take the new construction route. How that would happen and what would be built was fairly extensively outlined in the meeting. The process would involve four phases and would guarantee "no involuntary displacement." There were drawings displayed in the room of the proposed new buildings, and during a break, I took pictures of them.
The first phase would be the construction of a 37-unit senior building at some location other than the current Bliss Towers site. Currently 30 percent of the tenants in Bliss Towers are senior citizens, and the completion of this building would allow those tenants to be relocated immediately. The design approach for this building seems to be what has become standard for new construction in cities or neighborhoods known for their historic architecture: cobble together a few elements from the existing historic buildings and call it compatible. The presentation of this design even lets us know which buildings in Hudson they chose to imitate.
The next phase--which could happen concurrently with the construction of the senior building--would be to create temporary housing for the tenants in the remaining 95 units of Bliss Towers--both the high rise and the low rise. How or where this temporary housing will be created--or what will happen to it when the Bliss Towers tenants have been settled in new public housing--was not clarified.
Phase Three would be to demolish Bliss Towers and Phase Four to build on the site 22 duplexes, which would occupy not only the site of the high rise and the low rise but also the playground across State Street from the high rise.
This leaves, at the least, according to my math, seven units from the current Bliss Towers complex not accounted for in the new plan. They may be counting on some voluntary surrender of apartments, but there was some mention at the meeting of utilizing "in-fill lots within the city" to locate additional units.
Granted the decision to replace Bliss Towers has not yet been made and the plans displayed at the meeting in April were probably only preliminary, but they raise a couple of important concerns. What happened to the idea of mixed-income housing? The HOPE VI project revitalized distressed public housing projects by turning them into mixed-income developments, to the reported benefit of the low-income residents. What happened to the concept of scattered-site housing, promoted as an alternative to concentrating poverty and its problems all in one place? Unless I'm missing something, this plan disperses the tenants of Bliss Towers temporarily into the community and then moves them all back to the same place. There's also the question I raised before: What happens to the 95 units of temporary housing when the tenants of Bliss Towers move into their new duplexes?
I invite comments from those who have more information and insight into this than I do.