Smith Street (between Weed St. and Salt Point Turnpike), Poughkeepsie
Formerly known as the Smith Street Housing Project, the Hudson Garden Apartments are a public housing development in Poughkeepsie. The apartment complex opened to its first residents in 1952, becoming the city’s first public housing project. The 185-unit complex was named after Poughkeepsie cough drop tycoon William W. Smith and comprises three large buildings.
When Smith Street opened its doors to low-income tenants in June 1952, a three-and-a-half-room apartment rented for $36.50 a month and six-and-a-half rooms for $50.50, covering all monthly fees and utilities. It was also an example to other communities, offering affordable and modern apartment living. The project cost $1,876,245 to build and included a community center.
The City of Poughkeepsie deliberately sited the complex on the city’s northern edge, far from other residential communities and shopping, making it difficult for tenants to access groceries and other necessities. Furthermore, the development was situated close to industrial and waste-disposal sites, giving rise to environmental justice issues. Today, these site include the Poughkeepsie transfer and recycling stations, a pet food factory, and auto body repair shops.
By the late 1970s, Smith Street Housing had deteriorated markedly. The apartments were infested with cockroaches, and many units had smashed and boarded-up windows. Many walls were graffiti-covered and vandalized, there were broken lights, crumbling walls and floors, and a musty smell from the mold problems and inadequate ventilation permeated throughout. Meanwhile, the heating and plumbing systems were not up to City code, and children played outside on broken glass and amidst construction debris.
In the 1970s, New York State subsidized the housing project at a fixed rate, which was far outpaced by the rising costs of maintenance and energy. As a result, the Poughkeepsie Housing Authority acquired additional debt each year, and, by 1970, owed the state $235,000.
In response, the City’s housing authority looked to switch Smith Street Housing from state to federal subsidies to alleviate the accumulating debts, better fund public housing, and fund a much-needed renovation. In 1981, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agreed to take over the costs of maintenance and operation of Smith Street and slotted $9.6 million from the federal government to renovate the complex.
This was a time when there was a serious shortage of affordable housing in Poughkeepsie as private property rents were rising faster than the inflation rate. New housing was too expensive for lower-income families. Additionally, Dutchess County was enforcing housing codes more seriously than before, meaning substandard but lower-priced housing was no longer available. In 1981 the waitlist for public housing in Poughkeepsie alone was at 400 people.
The Poughkeepsie Housing Authority surveyed residents to find out what renovations they would like to see. The renovation brought about a much-improved housing development along with a new name for the Smith Street Housing Projects: Hudson Gardens.
The Poughkeepsie Housing Authority, established in 1952, manages the Hudson Garden Apartments and four other public housing sites. In total, the Poughkeepsie Housing Authority manages 359 units with approximately 1200 residents.
From the Poughkeepsie train station (serviced by Metro-North and Amtrak), take a Dutchess County J, C, or H bus to the Poughkeepsie Transit Hub. Transfer to the M bus, and get off at the Hudson Avenue & Howard Street stop. The Hudson Garden Apartments are visible from the bus stop.
To learn more:
Poughkeepsie Journal archives.
Harvey K. Flad and Clyde Griffen, Main Street to Mainframes: Landscape and Social Change in Poughkeepsie, Albany: Excelsior Editions, 2009.
Magdalena Schneiderman, Geography, Class of 2021.