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Housing advocacy organization losing home in Catskill

A unique round doorway at Hudson-Catskill Housing Coalition's space inside the Foreland arts complex
Photo provided by Elliott Matos
A unique round doorway at Hudson-Catskill Housing Coalition's space inside the Foreland arts complex

A community and legislative advocacy organization in Catskill says it’s being forced out of its home in a recently renovated warehouse-turned-arts space.

The Hudson-Catskill Housing Coalition, formed in 2020 at the height of the pandemic and the racial justice movement sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, operates in Columbia, Greene, and Albany Counties.

HCHC, which utilizes a rented space in Catskill, says the only Black-led tenants’ rights organization in Greene County is losing its home in a recently-renovated block of buildings now called Foreland.

On Thursday, the non-profit posted on Instagram an email exchange with Foreland founder and executive director Stef Halmos, and claimed the arts organization is kicking HCHC out after seeking a 137.5 percent increase in rent.

HCHC’s Elliott Matos says the non-profit is being displaced.

“There’s patterns that exist, patterns of wealthy people coming in and buying places and then displacing the Black community so that it’s not seen, so that it’s not visible to the community,” said Matos.

Foreland, described as an 85,000-square foot arts space, was formed after the property in Catskill’s core was purchased from Rob Kalin, a co-founder of online shopping site Etsy.

A June 2022 profile of Halmos in the “New York Times” says about Foreland’s genesis:

“The $12.5 million project was funded mostly through her family’s company, Halmos Holdings, with $1.5 million in grants from New York State for historic restoration and waterfront revitalization. It includes 31 individual private artist studios, a cooperative working space, four public galleries, a restaurant and event spaces available for rentals.”

In addition to Foreland, Halmos Holdings lists on its website several property developments in Florida, as well as properties in Georgia, Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, and New York City.

Foreland declined an interview request from WAMC, but did provide a statement in which the group said it was “disappointed in this outcome, which has led to a gross mischaracterization of its intentions.”

The statement says HCHC entered a lease with Foreland in February of 2021, and voluntarily offered the advocacy group a 20 percent reduction in rent for the 800-square-foot location.

Matos said prior to the lease, HCHC had paid the building’s prior owner a $600 fee for office space through a handshake agreement. When Halmos took over, Matos said HCHC paid a monthly rent of $400.

According to Matos, in May of this year, Halmos approached HCHC about its approaching August lease expiration, saying she would request an increase in rent to market price.

“’And were like, ‘Well, what’s market price? Who determines what that is?’ And Stef said, ‘Well, for this room, we would say $950.’ And we were thinking, I’m like, $400, $950, that’s more than double. I was just like, ‘That’s…I don’t think we can do that, Stef.’ And she said, ‘Well, why don’t you work some numbers and come back to us in August,’” said Matos.

In its statement, Foreland says it “unable to continue to subsidize HCHC’s current space.”

It outlines three options it gave to HCHC, which include staying the in the current space with a rental increase starting in January 2024, a request to HCHC for a budget so that Foreland could find “a suitable alternative space within their means” – something Foreland says HCHC never provided — and an offer to use a co-working space on site for reduced rate of $150 per month.

Matos says he sought a gradual increase to the $950 rate.

“When we said that we would need to start doing that I told her, ‘We can’t do that all once. Can we do it gradually?’ I said it again in my email. ‘Can we do this gradually?’”

Foreland says HCHC declined all options and “resisted collaboration.”

The email exchange between Halmos and Matos posted to social media Thursday is dated August 31st.

Matos, a recent Bard graduate, requests the gradual increase and writes he just completed his senior thesis on the “historical displacement of the black community in the Village of Catskill,” adding, “Market rates are not affordable; they are only for the elite.”

In her reply, Halmos says she is “flabbergasted” by the response, which she characterized as “highly offensive” and adds “I feel it best that HCHC vacates the space at the termination of your Lease.”

In a follow-up email, Halmos states she acknowledges and sympathizes with Matos over the displacement of people in the Catskill area, but said she is “tired of being abused,” closing the door on negotiations.

Matos says the community has rallied around HCHC since his post went up, and says the nonprofit is considering multiple offers. But he reiterated that the eviction from Foreland is an example of displacement.

“Gentrification happens without structure, without limits, and this is what occurs.”

A new report by the nonprofit Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress finds the cost of housing is out of reach for most Hudson Valley residents. The average single worker cannot comfortably afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment in any of the region’s nine counties, and median home prices are more than $100,000 higher than the mortgage a typical family would qualify for.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.