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 + Brooks. Dan 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.
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