BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
About two weeks ago, elected officials publicly made it clear that they are standing alongside the residents of the New York School of Urban Ministry (NYSUM) 39-unit dormitory, located at 31-65 46th St. in Astoria, who all were blindsided by an eviction notice on Nov. 28 demanding residents vacate by Dec. 31, 2016.
On Monday, state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-Queens/Bronx) and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) presented a letter calling on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate the mismanagement of NYSUM.
“It is 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,” said Crowley. “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.”
In the letter to Schneiderman, the elected officials stated that the majority of NYSUM residents pay between $400 and $500 in rent a month.
“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,” said Simotas. “Because the organization’s action 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.”
In the letter, they also stated that the property was fully paid off and clear of mortgage. However, Pastor Peter DeArruda, who is responsible for sending out the eviction notices, suggested that NYSUM was losing money on the location and is facing financial hardships.
“NYSUM claims a net rental income of $446,881, according to their 990 filing from 2014,” the letter read. “This income appears to be sufficient to cover operational costs that may exist, given the tax status of the organization.”
They concluded the letter by emphasizing that their concern is that residents are “paying the price” for the mismanagement of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit Christian ministry and school.
“Claiming financial hardship to pressure low-income tenants out of their homes during the holidays is a new low,” said Gianaris. “Needy residents should not be victimized by poor management looking to make more money off of their misery.”
The Queens Tribune reached out to Schneiderman, who said, “We have reviewed the letter and will be discussing it with SED [State Education Department], which has primary jurisdiction over educational institutions.”
This weekend marks the eviction date. However, Gianaris, Crowley and Simotas are all encouraging the residents to remain in their homes and to work with the Legal Aid Society, which will examine all documents and assist the residents.
The offices of Gianaris, Crowley and Simotas offered DeArruda the opportunity to meet and discuss a potential solution. However, they said he did not respond to their request.
In addition, the Queens Tribune reached out to DeArruda for comment, but did not get a response by press time.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or firstname.lastname@example.org