Friday, January 18, 2019

An Evening with the Hudson Housing Authority

Last evening, the Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to enter into a Master Development Agreement (MDA) with PRC (Property Resources Corporation) and Duvernay + BrooksDan Hubbell, the "Mixed Finance Development Legal Counsel" for HHA, explained that the MDA "governs the terms and conditions of exploring and moving forward with the project," but it does not "commit the board to a specific design."

The project HHA is proposing was the topic of two meetings last evening: the special meeting of the HHA to vote on the MDA, which took place at 5:00, and the Common Council Economic Development Committee meeting, which started at 6:00. Gossips will not report everything that was said in chronological order. Instead, the focus will be on main themes.

During the first meeting, the public was ejected from the room so the HHA board could go into executive session. Amazingly, Dan Udell, who was there to videotape the meeting, was asked to remove his camera, which he had left in room, the implication being, it seems, that he might have set the camera to continue recording during the executive session. While the public was waiting in the lobby, I spoke with Ifetayo Cobbins, a resident of Bliss Towers, who repeated a complaint Luisa Burgos-Thillet, also a resident, had made earlier: notice of the meeting was not posted in the building until that afternoon. Cobbins suggested the actions of the board seemed "underhanded" and "kind of fishy" and wondered what the board had to hide. It may not be the case that the HHA board is hiding anything, but their story seems to be ever changing.

Last week, the income limits for the 40 units in the "family" building were defined as being between 50 and 65 percent of the AMI (area median income). Last evening, the spread was said to be from 50 to 70 percent. According to Hubbell, 11 of the units will designated for households with incomes of 50 percent of the AMI, 12 for 60 percent, and 17 for 70 percent. A handout distributed at the Economic Development Committee meeting charted the targeted income limits by apartment size.

In the past, the public was led to believe that all residents in Bliss Towers and the two proposed new buildings would be Section 8. Last night, it was explained residents in Bliss Towers would be a RAD type of Section 8; residents of the proposed senior building would be Section 8 with an income limit of 30 percent of the AMI; the "family building" would not be Section 8 but income restricted workforce housing.

A major concern voiced by the public is that the project is out of scale and does not meet the housing needs of Hudson as defined in the city's Strategic Housing Action Plan. Mayor Rick Rector has expressed the opinion that the SHAP "is in almost complete contradiction to what is being proposed." That opinion was echoed last night by former Third Ward alderman John Friedman. Friedman said the project "seems to have metastasized," saying that it contradicted the city's housing study, and asked of the HHA board, "Have you considered how this will impact the rest of the city?"

In her criticism of the project, Mary Ann Gazzola has repeatedly called the project out of scale and too big for the city, maintaining that the project is addressing a regional housing problem not the housing needs that exist in Hudson. At the Economic Development Committee meeting, she noted that there were already 600 units of subsidized housing in Hudson, a city of about 6,300, all confined to the same area of the city. This project would add to that density. In the same vein, Alderman John Rosenthal (Fourth Ward) remarked that the SHAP "does not envision a greater concentration [of subsidized housing] in the same area."

Hubbell and Brian Heeger of Duvernay + Brooks, who addressed the Economic Development Committee last evening, maintain that the project is consistent with city's Strategic Housing Action Plan and meets the goals of HUD. Hubbell did concede that the project was based on "what HHA has identified as the need" and "what we think can be financed by the state." When asked by Gazzola if there was a way "to fix the high rise, fix the low rise, and build something to scale," Heeber admitted "at a certain point, the scale becomes too small, and it loses its competitiveness"--competitiveness for funding, that is.

Another concern was fiscal strain the proposed project would put on the city. Because it is a federal housing project, the new buildings will be exempt from real property tax. Matthew Frederick noted the project would be "seventy-six households needing city services but not paying seventy-six households' worth of property taxes." There will be a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), which is yet to be negotiated, but Gazzola pointed out that the PILOT paid by Bliss Towers is $50,000 a year, whereas many homeowners in Hudson are paying between $10,000 and $15,000 a year in property taxes--a situation she called "woefully out of proportion."

Those representing the project were caught in an inconsistency last night. Despite criticism from members of the community that this project addresses a regional need not a local need, HHA and the developers have maintained that it will serve people already living in Hudson who are currently "rent burdened." Last night, when trying to make the case for the economic benefit of the proposed project, Heeger told the Economic Development Committee that the residents of the new buildings would bring $3 million in spending into the local economy. The sophistry of that statement was pointed out by an audience member, Sorche Fairbank, who asked, "If the people who are going to live in the buildings are already in Hudson, where is the $3 million coming from?"

The project requires site plan approval from the Planning Board, which in its review will be weighing the impacts on the environment and the city. The project also requires the approval of the Common Council. The next meeting at which the project will be discussed is the meeting of the Common Council Housing and Transportation Committee, which takes place on Wednesday, February 6, at 6:45 p.m. at City Hall.


  1. The public comment period at the HHA meeting consisted of one person trying to make themselves heard while being belittled by the Commissioner, Alan Weaver. Less than fifteen minutes in, the board went into executive session for most of the remainder of the meeting (no reason was given.)

    Housing availability and affordability is probably the most important issue currently facing Hudson. It affects the makeup of our city, its economic viability, the availability of our social services, and the tax rolls that allow our local government to function. It is an issue that requires active oversight from our elected officials and Planning Board, and responsive leadership at the Housing Authority that solicits community input, from both residents and community members.

    I encourage everyone to watch Dan Udell's video of the meeting which took place last night and placing calls to the offices of the mayor and their Common Council representatives. If Mr. Weaver's arrogant, snide attitude is indicative of his management style, he has no business running HHA at this critical moment for Hudson, and we should push for his immediate removal and replacement.

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    1. So the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing ... sounds like Hudson ... unfortunately.

    2. I have been to meetings about this development since the Charrette.

      Mostly, I have been concerned and confused.

      Concerned because it is such a big change to my neighborhood. It’s clear it’s not being driven by the City, and it’s unclear that the City has anything to say about it.

      Confused because, well, it’s confusing, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus on what’s going on, and no one is taking responsibility to create the common ground.

      The energy at these meetings is horrible. I wish this wasn’t the case. I wish the developers and their attorneys didn’t look so beleaguered. I wish I wasn’t made to feel like opposition for asking simple questions.

      I simply don’t understand what has been discussed at these meetings. There is no commonly accepted set of facts or principles for which any of us to talk about.

      As a result, we are lost in the weeds. Every meeting becomes an odd kind of performance art, where everyone spouts their own version of the facts.

      The tragedy here is that there is a formidable negotiating tactic sitting ignored in this document and no one wants to weaponize it : our Strategic Housing Plan.

      It may not be perfect, but it is what we have. And, we have allowed the HHA and the developers to turn this document against us, and into a superficial stamp of approval.

      Here is my deep personal wish:

      City leadership picks up the Strategic Housing Plan, simplifies it’s implications for the lay person, and then applies it to the proposed development.

      It’s simple.
      We have a housing strategy.

      If you want to develop here, align your proposal with our strategy in every possible way and show us how it delivers on our strategy.

      And, where your project is unable to deliver on our strategy or contradicts our goals, explain to us how and why.

  3. Why does Hudson constantly embrace and cater to and seek more subsidized housing? It is not good for Hudson and not what we need. What we do need is affordable housing. They are two entirely separate things. Affordable housing contributes to our tax base.

  4. Municipal managers of population decline attacking the issue by making more room for people rather than the infrastructure needed to promote jobs paying a living wage.

    Industry built this berg, the zeitgeist is re-industrialization, carpe diem!