Wednesday, April 17, 2024

HHA and Restore NY

Last night, at the Common Council meeting, the folks from the Hudson Housing Authority (HHA)--Revonda Smith, chair of the HHA Board of Commissioners; Jeffrey Dodson, HHA executive director; and Eu Ting-Zambuto and John Madeo from Mountco, HHA's development partner--made their pitch for the Council's support of their application for Restore New York funding. But before that happened, Council president Tom DePietro read aloud a communication from the other project that had been seeking Restore NY funding: Lil' Deb's Oasis, which is planning to redevelop the former TJ Auto Service Center building at 735-737 Columbia Street as its new location. The first paragraph of the message, from someone identified only as Halo, follows:
I am writing to let you know that after much thought, we have decided to no longer pursue Restore New York funding for this round. Competing with the Hudson Housing Authority's Bliss Towers project feels spiritually and culturally misaligned with our core values. Our hope is that by pulling out, this important project may have increased visibility and more opportunity to advance in the Restore funding process.
In the presentation of the HHA project made to the Council, it was clarified that the mixed income intended for the project is from 15 to 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). What was not clarified is how many units are being proposed. The number previously cited was 300, but last night 148 was given as the number of units in Phase 1 and 186 as the number of units in Phase 2. That adds up to a total of 334. 

The presentation also gave some insight into why the project is expected to cost $220 million, or about $733,334 per unit. The plans call for geothermal heating and cooling and subsurface parking.

In promoting the project, it was argued that the increase in lower income households would benefit the community. It would enable businesses to hire locally. It was also maintained that the design of the new buildings, which thus far no one has seen, would "mitigate the stigma of affordable housing." The courtyard being planned for the new development, which apparently will be open to everyone, is claimed will be "as big as Seventh Street Park." That seems an overstatement.

When Ting-Zambuto first told the HHA Board of Commissioners that they were seeking Restore NY Funding, Nick Zachos, who sits on the board, asked if there was a history of housing authorities getting money through Restore NY. Ting-Zambuto claimed there was an affordable housing component, but Madeo admitted he was unaware of any housing authority getting Restore NY funding. Wondering about the appropriateness of Restore NY funding for this project, Gossips decided explore the guidelines for Restore NY funding. The following is quoted from the Program Description and Goals:
The 2023-24 State Budget provided new funding for the Restore New York Communities Initiative and gave Empire State Development the responsibility of implementing this program for the sole purpose of revitalizing urban and rural areas, disadvantaged communities, and stabilizing neighborhoods. 
Municipalities, defined as counties, cities, towns, and villages, are invited to submit a Request for Funding Proposal for projects to demolish, deconstruct, rehabilitate and/or reconstruct vacant, abandoned, condemned, and/or surplus properties. . . . 
Projects should be architecturally consistent with nearby and adjacent properties or in a manner consistent with the municipality’s local revitalization or urban development plan. . . .
An important goal of Restore NY is to revitalize urban centers, rural areas, and disadvantaged communities. It is anticipated that upon completion, the projects funded by Restore NY grants will attract individuals, families, and industry and commercial enterprises to the municipality. It is further anticipated that the improved community and business climate will result in an increased tax base thereby improving municipal finances and the wherewithal to further grow the municipality’s tax and resource base, lessening its dependence on state aid.
It should be noted that at this point there is no concrete evidence that the proposed project will be "architecturally consistent with nearby and adjacent properties or in a manner consistent with the municipality's local revitalization or urban development plan."

What might be the most interesting bit of information provided about Restore NY process is this:
If a Municipality is intending to apply for Restore NY funding, a letter of intent must be submitted by the leading municipal official no later than 5:00 PM on March 25, 2024
This information suggests that the letter of intent was submitted by Mayor Kamal Johnson, independent of the Common Council. Last year, the Common Council has asked to choose between the Pocketbook Factory and the Kaz redevelopment in January. This year, the Common Council's support is being sought just a month before the application deadline on May 22. 

In the discussion following the presentation at Tuesday's meeting, Councilmember Margaret Morris questioned the wisdom of "bringing that number of people to a place that doesn't have many employment opportunities and no public transportation." Responding to this, Johnson asserted that "the hospital and the school district have a large number of openings." Last week, Michele Pierro cited employees of the school district as potential tenants for the market rate apartments proposed for Fairview Avenue.

According to one source, the AMI for Columbia County, which is the measure used by HUD, is $76,515. Eighty percent of $76,515 is $61,212. SeethroughNY publishes the salaries of 201 employees of the Hudson City School District in 2023. They range from $57,001 to $191,880. Only 18 are paid less than $61,212, and 50 are paid more than $100,000. 

A special meeting of the Common Council has been scheduled for Wednesday, April 24, to vote on whether or not to support HHA's application for Restore NY funding.


  1. Re: AMI - HUD uses its own definition of Area Median Income; in Columbia County, the baseline is "$103,000 for a four person household", and a formula is then applied to determine the AMI for various household sizes. For a one person household, 80% AMI is $52,600 a year.

    For context, Hudson's average household size is a little over 2 people (2.09). HUD's AMI for a 2 person household in the County is $82,400. Hudson's median income is ~$46k. (Its mean income is nearly twice that, owing to a relatively small amount of high earners whose incomes skew the data 'up'). Essentially, about half of Hudson's population falls under the 'up to 80% of AMI'.

  2. This sounds like another con job. People need to write/email the City Council and voice their opposition to this project. The only thing that will be restored or revitalized here are the bank accounts of the developers who will be cashing in to the tune of millions of dollars.
    I am all for making housing more affordable, the cost of rents everywhere has escalated and something should be done to regulate and reduce housing costs, but this is a separate issue from HHA. The Common Council represents the interests of local constituents, it doesn't represent the interests of a public housing authority or private developers, nor should it be influenced by a politically motivated, affordable housing social agenda. Construction projects like this should only be approved by the Council if they serve the interests of Hudson's existing residents.
    Bliss Towers is an outdated, degrading, isolating apartment tower that should be replaced with a smaller scale development that provides upgraded housing for it's existing residents. A new development of two or three story townhouses would be more in keeping with and blend into the character of the surrounding neighborhood, which is primarily comprised of two story residential homes. Permitting HHA to create another massive apartment project more than double the size of it's already over-sized Bliss Towers would have negative impacts on the surrounding community. Columbia and State Street are already burdened with enough street traffic and parking congestion as it is. The dust, noise and traffic congestion caused by a massive construction project will have a negative impact for years to come and the resulting congestion from doubling the HHA units will be permanent.
    Now is the time to create something smaller in scale that is restorative and new, rather than repeating and expanding upon the mistakes of the past. HHA needs to scrap this project and come up with a new plan.

  3. So much of this discussion is based on how much this will cost to build. But what is being overlooked is how much this will cost the city to maintain. And by that I don't mean building maintenance, but how much will the city's and school district's budgets need to be increased to service a population that will more than double in this housing project proposal? This is the more important question since these costs (school, fire/police, water/sewer, etc.) will fall solely on the Hudson taxpayers on an annual basis.

    There has been no evidence based answer given to the question as to what benefit it is to the city and its current residents to bring in new residents that will be high users of public services to buildings that pay almost no property taxes to cover their added costs. So far their argument is mostly based on "good vibes" and open positions at the hospital and school. Also, the healthcare worker shortage is a nationwide problem due to the issue that people are choosing to leave that field, and our school population is has been declining for years.

    This city has never been one to shy away from requesting a study. The council needs concrete data to make decisions about such a large and out of scale development. Specifically, how much more will the city and school budgets will need to be increased and how much will out already astronomical property taxes need to be increased to cover the additional planned units? Then the council must decide if it's fair for current Hudson residents to shoulder increased housing costs (both owners and renters) to subsidize housing for people that currently don't live here. This should also be considered in the bigger picture and include the other planned large developments that are being subsidized with PILOTs. Somebody should do some math before making a decision that will effect the city for generations.

  4. Will this project have to go before the Planning Board and the same rigamorole that private developments go through? I'm sure neighbors on State and Columbia streets will have concerns around noise, lighting, and traffic.

  5. It's a federal project. The City has no say.

    1. Technically yes, but you know how things work here. The project is directed and managed by political appointments to the board, mayoral selection of the director, manipulation of residents to garner support, etc. To say it's a federal project and the City has no say isn't accurate.

    2. Technically, you're completely wrong. There is no Planning Board review for federal projects. Local zoning does not apply. I get that you see shadows and think "substance," but they're just shadows.

    3. Actually, this is NOT a Federal project. The Federal government has no money for building affordable housing. That's why there’s a developer involved. I've been advised that the development is financed by a mortgage assumed by HHA (HHA did the RAD conversion a while back to allow it to mortgage its property), the State of New York (through Homes and Community Renewal), the developer, and selling low-income housing credits for tax write-offs. The project will be subject to local zoning laws and will require site plan approval from the Planning Board. The IDA will
      have to approve a PILOT for the project, and the Common Council will have to approve the "pedestrianization" of a block of State Street and the extension of First Street north of Columbia.

  6. If you look at the online HudsonValley360 article on the proposed project, you can enlarge the photo of the proposed site plan and get a pretty good idea of what the architects are proposing. And my takeaway from his is that they are proposing a scaled-down version of a typical 20th-Century, towers-in-a-park urban housing project. Not at all the kind of small-scale buildings one finds in the rest of Hudson.

  7. "In promoting the project, it was argued that the increase in lower income households would benefit the community."


    1. I think they're trying to say that poor people need jobs. And if poor people live in Hudson they will work here. Which might be true.

    2. ... or they may live here and not work, which might also be true.