2016-12-14 / Features

Lawmakers Cry ‘Scrooge’ In Astoria Evictions


At the protest on December 12th in front of the New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) Building, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer (podium) was joined by and Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, Florence Koulouris, Amy Burgmaier, Linda Smith, Central Astoria LDC Executive Director Marie Torniali and Central Astoria LDC President George Stamatiades. 
Photo Jason D. Antos At the protest on December 12th in front of the New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) Building, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer (podium) was joined by and Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, Florence Koulouris, Amy Burgmaier, Linda Smith, Central Astoria LDC Executive Director Marie Torniali and Central Astoria LDC President George Stamatiades. Photo Jason D. Antos BY LIZ GOFF

For anyone who isn’t aware by now, there is proof positive that The Grinch is alive and thriving in Astoria.

A new twist has been exposed in the ruckus over the proposed eviction of 35 low-income residents of an Astoria dormitory located in a Christian ministry at 31-65 46th Street.

Pastor Peter DeArruda, Executive Director and Vice President of the New York School of Urban Ministry said, following a rally on December 12, that the Christian organization has turned over the lease for the building to another not-for-profit group that intends to operate a residence for battered women at the site.


State Senator Michael Gianaris and resident Linda Smith. State Senator Michael Gianaris and resident Linda Smith. That information debunks a local rumor that the city had purchased the building and was planning to convert it into a homeless shelter – but it does nothing to help the 35 people who have been ordered to vacate their residences, local lawmakers said.

“Only a modern-day Ebenezer Scrooge would blindside residents with sudden eviction notices during the holidays,” State Senator Michael Gianaris said. The Astoria lawmaker said he is encouraging the residents not to move, but to instead fight to keep their homes.

DeArruda backed up the verbal notice with a written “Notice of Termination” that was slipped underneath each door at the dormitory-style residence on November 28, residents said.

“Please be advised that this is your official notice of termination of any tenancy rights to continue to occupy or possess your unit at 31-65 46th Street,” the letter read. It then advised the tenants that they must vacate by December 31st to avoid legal action.

“It is absolutely illegal to mislead people into leaving their homes,” Gianaris said. “The building owner should back off.”

Officials at the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) said they considered an offer to convert the building into a homeless shelter, but turned it down when they learned that there were longterm tenants living in the building. “We are absolutely not interested in using the building at this time,” DHS spokesperson David Neustadt said.

The stunned, angry tenants also turned to City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer for help after they received the notice of termination. Van Bramer confirmed that a homeless provider had been in talks with the city to determine use of the site as a homeless shelter

“Almost all of these residents are low-income, and many fear that without these low-rent units, they will end up home- less,” Van Bramer said. “It would be unconscionable and immoral to suddenly evict long-time Astoria residents at any time of the year, but the act is especially heartless during the holidays.”

Van Bramer said he received an email from DHS on December 10, confirming that the agency has no plans to convert the building into a homeless shelter. “The pressing issue right now is that there are close to 40 people who are still facing eviction. It is our intention to stop this tragedy, and our hope that the Urban Ministry will rescind the eviction notices.”

The tenants range in age from 18 to 80 years old. Most of the tenants are employed, and several are earning from $25,000 to $30,000 a year, a Ministry source said. “The tenants pay from $300 to $600 a month for rent,” the source said. “We have several tenants who are several months behind on their rent, and one tenant who has not paid rent for more than eight months. We have tried to work with these people to collect at least some of the back rent, to no avail. We simply could not sustain maintenance and upkeep of the building under these circumstances.”

Marie Torniali, Executive Director of the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition (CALDC) said 15 of the tenants walked into the CALDC office after they received the termination notices, seeking help from the CALDC Housing Advisor, a free service funded by the Division of Housing and Community Renewal and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

“We were very happy they turned to us,” Torniali said. “Our housing advisors went right to work, explaining the tenants’ rights and responsibilities and putting them in touch with Queens Legal Services to ensure they would have their day in court.”

The tenants filed a notice to the court of their intention to fight the eviction, and the termination date has since been extended to January 31. The attorneys have advised the tenants that the termination notice was a first step in the eviction process, and they do not have to move out until all legal measures have been exhausted or the court rules in the matter. The court has set a date in January for a first hearing in the matter.

“We were able to protect a number of the residents because they reached out to us as soon as they had a problem,” Gianaris said. “I am continuing to advise tenants, some of whom have lived there for half a decade, of their legal rights and will support them as they fight for their homes.”

Over the last week, Senator Gianaris repeatedly visited with residents to check on them, reminding them that there is not currently an eviction order in place requiring them to leave by December 31st. Gianaris’ office attempted to contact Pastor Peter DeArruda who refused to address this matter and referred questions to his attorney, who did not return calls.

Astoria Assembly Member Aravella Simotas said she believes the Ministry is using scare tactics, rather than lawful procedures, to evict the tenants. “I will continue to work with the tenants to ensure that no one loses their home due to this unconscionable money-grab,” Simotas said.

Experts in landlord-tenant disputes said the matter could be held up in court for “at least” three to six months – or more. “It could be held up for a year or more, if some of the tenants are senior citizens, or if they are disabled.”

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