By Bill Parry
Lawmakers in western Queens are calling for an investigation into the Astoria Christian ministry for evicting low-income residents during the holiday season in order to turn a dormitory into a shelter.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) urged state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate possible mismanagement by the non-profit, the New York School of Urban Ministry, for “blindsiding” 39 tenants from a dormitory in Astoria during the holiday season.
Pastor Peter DeArruda, executive director and vice president of NYSUM, met with the building residents just before Thanksgiving and told them they had to move out by year’s end. He then signed a “Notice of Termination” that said proceeding would begin.
In their letter to the attorney general letter dated Tuesday, the lawmakers said the majority of the residents pay rent between $400 and $500 a month, and would not be able to afford market-rate apartments in New York City and pointed out “NYSUM confirmed that they intend to remove these tenants in order to operate a homeless shelter on the site, which these tenants may very well need due to NYSUM’s actions.” They said Pastor Peter DeArruda suggested the non-profit organization was losing money on the residence and is generally facing hardships.
“It’s unconscionable that the New York School of Urban Ministry would look to evict its tenants in the midst of the holiday season and literally leave families out in the cold,” Crowley said. “At a time, when our city is grappling with an unprecedented homelessness crisis, we need to make sure we’re doing everything possible to keep people in their homes and protect them from unscrupulous landlords or any undue hardship that might result from their poor management.”
DeArruda’s attorney could not be reached for comment.
NYSUM claims a net rental income of $446,881, according to its 990 filing from 2014. “This income appears to be sufficient to cover operational costs that may exist, given the tax status of the organization,” they wrote. The lawmakers also included a document that indicates the property is fully paid off and owned by NYSUM, clear of any mortgage,
“Claiming financial hardship to pressure low-income tenants out of their homes during the holidays is a new low,” Gianaris said. “Needy residents should not be victimized by poor management looking to make more money off of their misery.”
The lawmakers continue to urge the residents to remain in their homes and avail themselves of their legal rights while the Legal Aid Society continues to examine all documents and assist the tenants. The offices of Gianaris, Crowley and Simotas offered DeArruda the opportunity to meet and discuss a potential solution to the situation but he did not respond to the request.
“The abrupt and shameful manner in which the New York School of Urban Ministry tried to force out its low-income tenants raises serious concerns about how this tax exempt, not-for-profit organization is operating,” Simotas said. “Because the organization’s actions towards these residents is so contrary to its stated mission and its plans for the building where they are living are so secretive, I think it’s important to investigate all of NYSUM’s practices as a so-called ‘charity.’”
Schneiderman has received the letter and will discuss it with the state Education Department, which has primary jurisdiction over educational institutions, according to spokeswoman Amy Spitalnik.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr