By Bill Parry
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) has made repeated visits to a faith-based housing facility in Astoria advising residents to remain in their homes. The low-income residents of a 35-unit Astoria apartment building have been told they must vacate their units by Dec. 31, but Gianaris is reminding them the non-profit owner may have issued eviction letters but that does not mean they have to leave.
“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 more than 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. Rev. Peter DeArruda, the organization’s vice president, informed the residents that the building was sold and they must move out during a meeting Nov. 17. Each resident also received a letter that was slipped under their doors which technically only represents the first step in an eviction process.
“It’s disturbing that people are being improperly asked to leave their homes just two weeks before the holidays,” Gianaris said. “Two people have already moved out. They’re trying to make these people homeless with no real grounds. We’re spreading the word that this is not a proper eviction notice and it’s up to the landlord to follow the correct process.”
Several of the residents say the building was sold to the city and will be converted into a homeless shelter. Gianaris has been told the city did not buy the property and there are no plans for a homeless shelter at that location.
“We have been told there is no plan, but there has been miscommunication in the past,” he said. “So we are a bit leery.”
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.
Two city councilman have jumped into the fray, calling for a rally at the New York School of Urban Ministries Monday at 1 p.m. Councilmen Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) will protest what they called the “sudden mass eviction from the facility which will leave 39 residents homeless.”
Gianaris is concerned that because these tenants are low-income New Yorkers, they are not getting proper representation.
“Clearly something is going on and we are not getting the full story and that to me is disconcerting,” he said.
State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) added her support Monday morning.
“Threatening to evict low-income tenants, during the holidays no less is nothing short of heartless,” she said. “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.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr