Attorney general urged to investigate an Astoria nonprofit that wants to boot dorm tenants

Photo by Angela Matua

After a local nonprofit sent eviction letters to its tenants living in an Astoria dormitory, several elected officials are calling on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the organization for possible mismanagement.

New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM), located at 31-10 47th St., notified its tenants living in its 39-unit dormitory at 31-65 46th St. that they must “vacate the premises” on or before Dec. 31. The letter was sent on Nov. 28. The organization extended the date of the eviction to Jan. 31, but only if the tenants waive their rights to challenge the evictions in court.

Most of the tenants there are low-income residents and rent starts at $425 per month.

Pastor Peter DeArruda, executive vice president of the ministry, told officials that the building would be turned into a homeless shelter partly because it was not financially feasible for the organization to keep running the dormitory as is. But city documents show that the building is fully paid off.

NYSUM also receives a net rental income of $446,881, which officials argued “to be sufficient to cover operational costs that may exist, given the tax status of the organization.”

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer hosted a press conference in front of the dormitory in early December, where residents said they were shocked to receive the eviction notice.

“Claiming financial hardship to pressure low-income tenants out of their homes during the holidays is a new low,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “Needy residents should not be victimized by poor management looking to make more money off of their misery.”

Gianaris along with Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas and U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who also signed the letter, said they reached out to DeArruda to discuss “a potential solution” but did not get a response from him.

NYSUM “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 Legal Aid Society has offered their services to tenants for free.

“While we will continue to encourage residents to remain in their homes and avail themselves of their legal rights, we are extremely concerned that these residents are paying the price for the mismanagement of this 501(c)(3) nonprofit,” the letter read. “Accordingly, we respectfully request your investigation of this situation.”

Amy Spitalnick, press secretary for Schneiderman, said his office will discuss it with the Education Department.

“We have reviewed the letter and will be discussing it with SED, which has primary jurisdiction over educational institutions,” she said.

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