In September, Gossips marveled at how the proposed development on the south side of town had been stopped in its tracks by public outcry, while a proposed development on the north side of town, with the potential to have significant impact on the character of the city, was moving along pretty much off most people's radar. That is no longer the case. Last night, all the chairs set out for attendees in the Community Room at Bliss Towers for the monthly Hudson Housing Authority Board of Commissioners meeting were occupied, not by residents of Bliss Towers but by members of the larger community, elected officials, and local media.
On the agenda was a resolution to approve the Master Development Agreement (MDA) for the proposed new construction on State Street and the rehabilitation of Bliss Towers. The board intended to go into executive session to discuss the MDA, but before they did, Alan Weaver, who chairs the HHA board, opened the floor for public discussion.
Don Moore was the first to speak, raising the same questions he had at the informal Common Council meeting on Monday: How did what was truly a mixed income development--30 to 120 percent of the AMI (area median income)--become one with narrower income parameters--50 to 65 percent of AMI? How did 40 to 50 units become 150 units?
Weaver and Dan Hubbell, legal counsel for the project, addressed Moore's concern about the scale of the project. Weaver clarified, "What we are developing is 73 units. Possibly in the future we may redevelop the low rises." Having said that, he said there would be 33 units for seniors and 43 units for families, which totals 76. Hubbell elaborated on Weaver's disclaimer, explaining "if there is a remote possibility [of further development], you must disclose it under SEQR [State Environmental Quality Review]. . . . In order for the Planning Board to do a full review, we are revealing that." But he asserted, "There is no plan whatever" to redevelop the low rise. (There are currently 15 units in the low rise buildings.)
Moore also expressed concern about the RFQ issued by HHA, which Timothy Mattice, executive director of HHA, once described as an RFQ (request for qualifications) and an RFP (request for proposals) rolled into one. Moore's concern was that the RFQ, which was issued a year ago, specified that firms responding "must describe in detail their history and experience in Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversions." Moore charged, "You narrowed potential respondents by requiring RAD experience," and indeed they had. Only two developers responded to the RFQ. Hubbell noted that the project has not been awarded yet. There is no signed development contract; there is only a preliminary award, which is nonbinding.
Fifth Ward alderman Eileen Halloran told the board, "People are expressing concern about the partnership," making reference to the shared ownership of the buildings with the proposed development partner PRC (Property Resources Corporation), which was the subject in early December of an article and an editorial in Columbia Paper. She asked, "What would the board like to say to correct misinformation?" Mattice responded, "The buildings will always be public housing." He explained that there would be a twenty-year agreement with HUD, which would be subject to automatic, mandatory renewal. He said the partnership with PRC is a fifteen-year agreement, after which HHA can assume full ownership of the new buildings. Mattice encouraged people to call the HUD Regional Office, which he said "is now under direct control of Ben Carson," to fact check what he was saying. He went on to say, "Public housing as we know it is in a transitional phase. The federal government does not have the money to maintain public housing and is looking to the private sector to bail them out. HUD is pushing [RAD conversion] on housing authorities because it is such a crisis."
Mary Ann Gazzola raised questions about the income limits for the proposed housing. "We have a lot of young people--young, creative people who make Hudson vibrant--who may not fit the income parameters," she said. "If it's not mixed income, you are creating a whole enclave. . . ." She cautioned that developers try to justify building projects by asking about waiting lists, but waiting lists for housing may be deceptive because the same people can appear on several different waiting lists. Weaver and Mattice cited the City's Strategic Housing Action Plan, the very document that Mayor Rick Rector said was "in almost complete contradiction to what is being proposed," as calling for the housing being pursued by HHA. In reaction to this assertion by Weaver and Mattice, Council president Tom DePietro noted that the need defined in the appendix of that document was for the entire county not just for Hudson.
Observing that all residents of the new buildings would have to be eligible for Section 8 housing, Moore asked, "Why does the City of Hudson need to be responsible? This is not housing for Hudson; it's housing in Hudson." Weaver responded, "There is no concern about people coming here and paying $2,000 or $2,500 a month [in rent]." He made a comment that implied Moore's concern was elitist if not racist and went on to say, "We have a mission. The City owns a lot of land, you seem to have a lot of experts on your boards, why isn't the City stepping up?"
Matthew Frederick also criticized the RFQ that made RAD experience a requirement and resulted in HHA receiving only two responses. He argued they should have opened up the process, positing, "There could have been a lot of people if you had not restricted it to RAD experience." Mattice disagreed. He told Frederick that HUD required three quotes for the rehab work done last year on some of the apartments in Bliss Towers, so he had reached out to local contractors, but they "would not come to 'the Tower' and passed on the opportunity to do the work." The contractor who did the project was from Schoharie.
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