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Photo by Angela Matua/QNS
Photo by Angela Matua/QNS

Residents of a building owned by a Christian nonprofit organization in Astoria will file a lawsuit later this month after the landlord told them they had to leave so he could turn the place into a homeless shelter.

New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) sent letters to its 35 tenants on Nov. 28, 2016 notifying them that they had to leave the building at 31-10 47th St. on or before Dec. 31st. Pastor Peter DeArruda, executive vice president of the ministry, has said that the organization has signed a contract with a homeless shelter provider to convert the 39-unit building.

The organization extended the date of the eviction to Jan. 31, but only if tenants wave their rights to challenge the evictions in court. NYCUM “hosts, trains and deploys over 5,000 youth and adults for urban ministry each year by partnering with inner city pastors and churches in New York City,” according to its website.

The apartment building houses low-income people who are referred by clergy and who are encouraged to do charitable work while they live there. Each tenant lives in a studio with communal living and kitchen spaces.

Sateesh Nori, the lead attorney for Legal Aid Society in Queens, said he will file a lawsuit on behalf of 12 tenants at the building. Astoria Post first reported about the lawsuit.

“We are suing on a claim that the apartments are subject to rent-stabilization,” he said.

Rent for the rooms start at $425 and tenants have said that they cannot afford market-rate apartments if they are kicked out.

In December 2016, tenants and elected officials gathered in front of the building to rally against the landlord. Later that month, Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and Congressman Joe Crowley sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asking him to investigate NYSUM.

DeArruda claims that the organization is facing financial hardship and cannot afford to keep running the building as is. But public records show that the property was fully paid for by 2014 and the organization makes $200,000 per year in rent from the tenants.

Nori did not say exactly when the lawsuit would be filed and added that some tenants may have already moved out of the property.

Lauren Gray, spokesperson for the Department of Homeless Services (DHS), told QNS in December that NYSUM lied about the status of the tenants. The nonprofit told DHS that missionary students were living in the dorms and they would be vacating the units soon. When DHS found out that the landlord wanted to kick out permanent tenants, they “immediately stopped any consideration of this property.”

Still, NYSUM could potentially sign a lease with a privately funded homeless shelter contractor.

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