Elected officials condemn evictions by Astoria faith-based non-profit

City Councilman Jimmy VanBramer says an Astoria faith-based ministry’s decision to evict tenants right before the holidays is driven by the quest for money.
By Bill Parry

A double-edged crisis is playing out in Astoria where the leader of a faith-based non-profit sent out eviction notices to 39 residents just after Thanksgiving saying they had to vacate the premises before Dec. 31. The New York School of Urban Ministry housed low-income New Yorkers at the facility in dorm-style single rooms with common spaces and kitchens for more than 33 years, but its pastor, Rev. Peter DeArruda, believes he can make more money by having a service provider run a “shelter-like” operation at the location.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) spoke with the pastor Monday and later stood with state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and dozens of residents and vowed to fight.

“Money is at the heart of what is happening here,” Van Bramer said. “People. Innocent hardworking people are being tossed out of their homes at Christmastime by a Christian organization because of money. There is no other way to say it.”

The residents, who pay between $400 and $500 a month, would not be able to afford market-rate apartments and would likely end up homeless, according to Van Bramer, who said they would get an extra month provided they sign away any right to challenge the eviction in housing court.

“That is not an act of Christian kindness, that’s more like a gun to the head,” Van Bramer said.

Four tenants have already left despite the efforts of state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who made repeated visits to the facility advising residents to remain in their homes.

“Only a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge would blind side residents with sudden eviction notices during the holidays,” 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 then as they fight for their homes.”

The building, located at 31-65 46th St., is owned by the New York School of Urban Ministries, which 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 Department of Homeless Services had been interested in the property but not since Nov. 17.

“At the time the city considered this property, it had no knowledge that there were residents living at this location who would be displaced,” DHS spokeswoman Lauren Gray said. “We are currently working to connect tenants at this location to free anti-eviction legal services.”

The Legal Aid Society will examine all documents and assist the residents. DeArruda and his attorney, Ira Clair of White Plains, could not be reached for comment. The Department of Homeless Services has been asked to explain the situation but has not yet responded.

“Kicking low-income residents out of their homes in the middle of December in the cold is heartless and asinine,” Simotas said. “This organization appears to be using scare tactics rather than lawful procedures and I will continue to work with tenants and my colleagues in government to ensure that no one loses their home due to this unconscionable money grab. We will band together, fight together. We are activated and awake and we’re going to make sure this does not happen.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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