Dec. 12, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
Local politicians came together today to protest the likely eviction of nearly 40 residents from a faith-based housing facility.
The residents of the New York School of Urban Ministry, located at 31-65 46th Street, were notified last month that they had to leave by year-end. They soon discovered that plans were in the works to toss them out so the building could be converted into a homeless shelter–in partnership with the city.
However, the Department of Homeless Services said late last week that it does not plan to use the property as a shelter. DHS backed off the proposed site after learning that low-income people would be forced out to make way for the shelter, according to Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
Despite DHS’ apparent change of mind last week, Urban Ministry still plans to move forward with the evictions, and the lawyer for the ministry said that a tenant will soon take possession of the property.
Ira Clair, Urban Ministry’s lawyer, would not disclose who the new tenant is or whether the tenant is a provider of homeless services. He said he was asked to keep the tenant’s name quiet given the media attention the evictions have generated.
Residents of the dorm-style building were blindsided by letters on November 28 demanding they move out of the building by the end of the year, which would leave some of them homeless.
The residents received an update on Friday that said they could stay until the end of January if they do not pursue legal action against the evictions.
The building’s residents are primarily single adults who each pay between $425 and $500 per month to rent a dormitory style room with a shared bathroom and no kitchen.
The building is part of a non-profit Christian group, and each resident got a spot in the building through a church, with at least three clergy members vouching for them.
Since the eviction notices, rumors have swirled around the neighborhood that a homeless shelter would open in the building.
Van Bramer said that he was concerned as to who the School of Urban Ministry’s tenant might be. He speculates that it might be a private non-profit group that operates a shelter without the support from DHS.
Clair said that the Urban Ministry sought a tenant because it could no longer afford to keep the current dormitory program going.
However, the idea that the building is not financially viable does not compute with some residents, who claim that the building has been completely paid off, and that the $200,000 in yearly rent revenue should more than cover expenses. The building is also exempt from property taxes because of its religious affiliation.
Van Bramer said he asked Reverend Peter DeArruda who runs the property if the group had explored all other options aside from eviction, and was unconvinced that they had. He said that DeArruda claimed that other options had been discussed, but the board decided that bringing in a new tenant made the most fiscal sense.
“Money is at the heart of what is happening here, whether you call it profit or need, money is at the heart of what is happening here,” Van Bramer said. “People, innocent, good, 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 this.”
Legal Aid Society representative Sateesh Nori said the organization would work with the residents of the building and represent them in court. He said that the worst-case scenario is that they will be able to delay the eviction until a later date.
“It is so shameful to me that a school of urban ministry on one hand professes that they are helping people minister and helping people learn about how to work with and how to help the poor and on the other hand they are kicking people out of their home in the middle of the holiday season,” said Assembly Member Aravella Simotas.
“Kicking low income residents out of their homes in the middle of December in the cold is heartless, and quite frankly if you ask me it’s asinine, it makes absolutely no sense.”