HUDSON — Seven off-line Bliss Towers apartments that were expected to be done in January were delayed again, with contractors leaving the Housing Authority in the dark.
After assessing 25 offline apartments, the Hudson Housing Authority determined at its Dec. 9 meeting that seven off-line Bliss Towers units would be ready for occupancy by the end of January. The renovations were initially delayed because an asbestos variance was needed from the state, but construction could have begun over a month ago.
An environmental assessment determined there are no hazards for workers, a variance was given and repairs can begin on the units once an abatement contractor is hired, Hudson Housing Authority Executive Director Timothy Mattice said Jan. 27.
But Mattice is waiting for contractors to commit to and begin the project, and he doesn’t know why no one has started, Chairwoman Marie Balle said.
“He doesn’t understand what the holdup is,” Balle said. “It is literally a mystery to him.”
Mattice will escalate the situation by contacting the state agency that oversees the variance if nothing happens, she said. The contractors are licensed by the state.
C&C Unlimited and Ambient Environmental visited the site Feb. 23 and Mattice is anticipating a proposal Wednesday, he said Monday. A local contractor visited the site Feb. 27 to make a proposal for remaining work after the asbestos work is done.
There were two companies ready to do it earlier that stopped responding, Commissioner Rebecca Borrer said.
“He [Mattice] has tried to get them to explain why they decided not to do the work,” Balle said. “They basically stopped calling.”
The professional environmental firm Ambient Environmental Inc. conducted an assessment for the units and their initial variance was denied by the state, Mattice said Friday. The firm re-wrote it based on recommendations and was approved. A contractor who was ready for the job said he will do the work when the variance was ready, and then decided not to take the job once the variance was approved. The contractor did not give a formal explanation.
A second contractor interested in the project left Mattice in the dark after considering the project, Mattice said. He is hoping the third prospective contractor will agree to the project.
“Let’s be clear, the safety of the residents comes first, and first and foremost, that is our priority,” Mattice said. “So when we complete this process and when we believe it is safe to proceed, that’s when we will proceed.”
The contractors need to be certified to work with asbestos, he added.
“I’m just as frustrated as everyone else and the level of courtesy that some of these contractors kind of convey or have is a little less than desirable,” he said. “They’re supposed to be professional companies and when they completely disappear on you or just throw their hands up and say, ‘no we’re not going to do it,’ that’s kind of frustrating and that’s unprofessional, but I guess that’s the industry we are dealing with.”
The contractors were referred to the housing authority by Ambient Environmental, Mattice said.
Balle guessed the job is smaller than other options, so contractors aren’t prioritizing it. She also speculated it was an insurance question, or that the contractors don’t understand the variance.
The project involves contractors installing floating ceilings and floating floors to remediate, rather than remove, asbestos, as determined appropriate by the state variance.
Vice Chairwoman Revonda Smith heard from a contractor who was supposed to do other work in Bliss Towers that they were turned off by rumors of bedbugs and roaches in the building, she said.
Those wouldn’t be sufficient excuses, Balle said.
Board Treasurer Rebecca Wolff noted it has been a common struggle in the area for locals to find contractors.
Once the housing authority pursues larger development projects, Balle anticipates similar problems will come up. But it will be on the developer, not the board, to address.
“I can see this kind of thing becoming an endless problem, especially in the age of COVID,” Balle said.
After assessing 25 offline apartments last year, the board decided the seven offline apartments would be the easiest to put online, as they needed the least significant repairs out of the offline units. Of the 25 off-line housing authority units, 12 others in Bliss Towers need more significant repairs and the other six are uninhabitable low-rise units on Columbia Street that would be costly to repair at an estimated of $80,000-$100,000 each, so as the board develops their future plans for public housing in Hudson, there are no plans to put the low-rises back online.