Aug. 25, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan (Updated: Aug. 26)
Homeowners living beside the Amtrak train tracks in Astoria are facing rent hikes up to 100,000 percent higher than they currently pay to rent the land adjacent to their properties under the trestles, and several local politicians are fighting back on their behalf.
Property under train tracks has long been a magnet for graffiti, trash, and crime, but in the 1940s Amtrak and Astoria residents came up with a mutually beneficial solution: Amtrak rents the property to neighboring families for a token rent price, and residents steward the land, maintaining and upgrading the property over the years.
The residents of these homes, who maintain the property, pay around $25 to $50 per year to rent the land, building yards, gardens, decks and driveways in the space.
However on August 9, six families received a letter notifying them that their rent on the land would increase to between $25,000 and $45,000 per year, depending on the property, and they would have to respond by September 8.
“What they’re trying to do is intimidate our constituents … and they’re trying to railroad them in to paying more money,” said Congressman Joseph Crowley. “It’s a money grab on behalf of Amtrak.”
Many of the residents of these homes have used the land for generations.
“I was born at the house I live in 73 years ago, this was my grandparents’ home and it went on to my parents, to my sister and I, my son and I and my grandson now,” said Loretta Csikortis, whose rent is set to increase from $50 to $40,000 per year.
“I was born here, I would like to die here,” she said, though she noted that if her rent does increase that much she will likely have to move, given how integral the property is to her home. Over the years she has built a driveway, a deck with a pool, and a yard on the property.
“I want to thank congressman Crowley for standing with us and helping us stop this atrocity, stop this unfairness, stop really what Amtrak is trying to do, which is fleece our residents, fleece hard working middle class Astorians who are the reason why this community is one of the most desirable places to live,” said Assembly Member Aravella Simotas.
“It’s because they spent their time, their money, but mostly their time because that’s the most precious thing we have in this life, to clean up Amtrak properties and make them places where people want to come to,” she added.
Councilman Constantinides said he couldn’t imagine how residents felt receiving the letter from Amtrak. “This has been their life work, your home is the largest investment you are ever going to make, and they’re taking care of their homes and taking care of their yards, year after year, decade after decade, raising their families building memories, building a community around this particular home, and for Amtrak to come and try to take that away is unconscionable,” he said.
Amtrak defended itself in a statement, saying, “As good business practice, Amtrak’s Real Estate Department reviews all leases in its asset portfolio. During a recent review, Amtrak identified several lease holders (in the Hell Gate Line Right-of-Way) who had not seen property increases in more than 70 years.
To ensure reasonable leases at fair market value, these lease holders, who currently pay approximately $25 a year, can expect to be charged a fraction (less than 1%) of the fair market rental rates. Those lease holders who are using the property for commercial purposes, will be notified that Amtrak is requesting rates equivalent to the commercial fair market value. Amtrak has been, and will continue, to work with all lease holders on an individual basis.”
“Aside from the sentimental value which is a big issue for us, we have maintained the property in good faith for Amtrak,” said Mary Brown, who was the first resident to get in touch with Simotas’ office. She added that Amtrak gave her no reasons as to why it was raising the rent so much.
The residents on the Amtrak property signed open-ended leases as early as 1946, and their families have resided there ever since. In 1973 rents were raised from a token $1 to between $25 to $50, maintaining the mutually beneficial relationship between Amtrak and residents.
Rose Nagy, another affected resident, spoke to the risks associated with living under the train tracks. She said she remembered fires on the bridge that dropped embers on to her roof in the 70s and 80s, a metal beam that fell off of the bridge and crushed her fathers car in the 90s, and more recently, rocks and bolts that fell from the bridge in to her yard.
“We didn’t get rocks this year, but we got letters,” said Csikortis, noting that this year was worse.
“This is a quintessential Queens story of success,” said Crowley. “Of hard working middleclass Americans who care about the community.”
“We’re calling upon Amtrak once again to rescind these letters, and if they want to enter in to a discussion about a nominal increase in rent, we’ll talk to them about it,” Crowley added. “Though I’m not even interested in that at this point, but we’ll talk to them about it.”
“These letters are obscene,” Crowley concluded.
Moving out of Astoria was the smartest thing I ever did.
Moving out of Queens was the smartest thing I ever did.
So these snivelling and freeloading homeowners want the rest of the public to subsidize (through federal taxes to Amtrack) their private use of public property needed by the railroad that they don’t own merely because its adjacent to their homes. What the hell are this lot sniffing? This is not their homes at threat!
First and foremost Amtrack needs the land to access and maintain our railway infrastructure that’s why they keep its ownership not to pleasure this lot. The woman in the article seems to confuse a business tenancy with her personal property….leaving it to her children..wtf?? Its not her property. They were lucky to get such a sweet deal for so long as it is.
This sorry group of whiners and self-entitled spongers need to relocate to the burbs if they want a swimming pool and pay property taxes for the privileges like any other private citizen.
I called the Congressman’s office to upbraid him..is there honestly not other more worthy and urgent causes needing our Congressman’s attention than giving this bunch a public platform?? Sheer madness.
For a moment i thought I was reading an article about some people in Greece. Pay your fair share and stop whining folks!
The parking lot on 23 ave under the Amtrack is an eyesore and a dirty mess. I’ve seen dead pigeons, dirt, bags, bottles, shit, bottles, etc. all over that parking lot. The parking lot sidewalk area is cracked with big holes and a danger to every pedestrian. Calling 311 does not help. The Councilman should look into areas like this one and others and get those people to clean up, repair and maintain their leased properties.
Well if the homeowners can no longer lease the land I am sure they are plenty of other people in and outside the neighborhood that would be willing too. Most of these properties have car entrances so they are all ready for others to be used. Twenty years ago if the homeowners backed out it would of probably turned into a wasteland. Today that will not be the case. I am sure Amtrak has a list of interested renters. I get asked every other week by contractors looking for space to park their commercial plates.
I would not live by the Amtrack even if you paid me!
Amtrak should have a website or number where people can report filthy or unlicensed parking lots! Clean up Astoria! Half of Ditmars sucks due to the location of the Amtrack. And we all know the day will come when they will add more trains on that track. Perhaps they will connect it to Laguardia Airport! So glad i live in astoria heights.
Please most of those homeowners who lease those properties should be ticketed for the mess i seen on some of those lots (debris, bottles, rocks, poop, over grown grass, etc). And if they were ticketed the fine would be more than the amount they are currently paying to Amtack to lease them for a year. That makes no sense. Raise their lease rent and write specific terms as to how to properly maintain and what it can only be used for (such as no more than a certain number of vehicles allowed).
I used to live by the Amtrack and it was horrible! It was noisy, caused the furniture in my apartment to shake each time cargo or the LIRR passed by at all hours of the day and night and would stink after a rain fall. Very few are lands are nicely maintained. A lot are used as parking lots which should be illegally if you are renting out space to more than 3-4 vehicles.
I just googled street views of the properties. Many of them are being used for off-street parking with quite a few vehicles. I’m sure they’re earning a pretty nice amount for their $50 rent.
yes most of them are and are getting between $100 and $150 for each parking spot and use that money to maintain their homes not the property the cars are parked in.
Maintain their homes or line their pockets….. They’re crying with a loaf of bread under each arm.
Boohoo, I clean my yard all the time *and* pay fair market value. I’d love to pay $50 a year for rent, not have to work, and periodically cut some vines or break out the mower. And going back generations? I would assume most of these folks have plenty of money considering their cost of living has been absurdly low for decades.
It’s not the house they’re paying $50/year in rent for, it’s the little 5-10 foot sliver of land between their house and the train tracks. They own the houses and “rent” the sliver. Their complaint is that they’ve developed the sliver over the past 70+ years instead of letting it become an empty rat/trash filled yard and now Amtrak thinks it’s worth $40,000/year. In actuality, the city would never allow anything habitable to built on these spots so if these people don’t pay the $40,000/year, it’s just going to sit there empty. It’s not like someone is going to come build a Jamba Juice on it and certainly not a house.
But someone can turn those areas into neighborhood gardens, pathways to get from one block to the next or better maintained parking spaces that people can use. 25-50 dollars is way to little. Now, there are so many innovative and creative youngsters in the neighborhood. I am sure someone would take the area over if they were available.
the granting of land by the US government to the railroads (all of them) was one of the most corrupt policies in our history. please do a little research to verify. The home owners who already live in less desirable locations (directly under or next to railroad tracks) should be given the land they have maintained for the last 100 years. JMHO
Amtrak itself did not exist in the 1940’s – Amtrak only came into being in 1971 as a federal entity to operate the bankrupt passenger railroad lines. Prior to 1971 the RR viaduct was part of the New York Connecting Railroad (set up by the Pennsylvania RR to provide freight service to New England ca. 1910). Of course, this does not explain Amtrak’s rapacious greed today.
Follow the raised tracks in Astoria. The homes are located to the left and right of the tracks. The Amtrack property is useless to anyone other than the homeowners adjacent to the Amtrack properties. This is extortion! Most of these folks have been using this property for almost 100 years and now an increase of this magnitude? It’s rediculous!
Oh please. If someone is renting a space in NYC for $50 a year they need a rent hike… This is either horrific reporting or people are idiots
Oh please. If someone is renting a space in NYC for $50 a year they need a debt hike… This is either horrific reporting or people are idiots
pay your god damn rent increase you moochers….tired of deadbeat people not paying what other people have to pay for rent. 25-50 bucks a year? boo hoo..let me get my violin. If you dont want to pay …then move out of the property or better yet take a hike and stop complaining. I heard that newark is pretty cheap.
Oh, and all politicians are lying sacks of sh_t
Where exactly are these houses?
Apparently, they are somewhere under the trestles, but I’ve never seen one either. I’d also love to know. I know a whole lot of people had existing homes destroyed when the Hellgate was built. That once was a thriving community with old, large, houses. An elderly neighbor spoke of having her family home destroyed. It would be ironic if they relocated some of those people nearby and their descendents are the ones affected.
they are between Ditmars Blvd and 23rd Avenue stretching from 28th Street down to 21st street in the middle of these blocks. the lots are either to the left or right of each house on both sides of the street.
Home Taxes are high enough and I cant imagine paying more than a couple of hundreds of dollars even if the land was right next to my house. I think homeowners who can not afford it will not renew. Others will lease the land and just turn most of them into commercial parking spaces/lots charging nearby residents and perhaps business to park there.
i heard differently. I heard they dont own the homes. I wish i knew the real facts.
Amtrak has absolutely no need for the income from this land , the agreement has always been between the adjacent home owners and Amtrak , that the renter would maintain the property (at no cost to amtrak)and at any time that Amtrak(con rail, what ever the company has transformed from)would be able to take control of the property , YES THERE ARE THOSE ABUSERS of the agreement for commercial means, , However , the private families such as the Paratores / Browns and many others who have up kept Amtrak property at NO COST THE RR for over 70 years should not be penalized for the greedy , these families have held up their end of the original agreement , it is time , Amtrak became an AMERICAN company and lived up to theirs
Amtrak actually has a lot of need for the income. It gets tax dollars just to stay in business. It wasn’t “no cost” they got to use the land. It’s like saying I cleaned my apartment at no cost to the landlord .
Amtrak is in a tough spot here. Basically all homes built along the arches had an agreement to pay a small rent, and in return they protect the arches, but at the same time get very big yards, Basically, it is now a decision of giving up those yards or paying more. In a business way I agree a little with Amtrak, mainly because a lot of these ‘yards’ have become profit centers for homeowners who rent them out for parking spots, or to contracting companies to store ugly equipment, etc. But to the ones that just maintain their homes, and in some cases made proper use of the yards, it is totally unfair.
One suggestion I think would make a nice esthetic touch to Astoria, it to take the yards away from the homeowners (it wasn’t really theirs in the first place), remove all the fencing and create a nice pedestrian-only pathway through the arches that would stretch from Astoria Park up to about 28th Street. Similar to what was done on Randall’s Island. It would be a nice promenade free from traffic, and if maintained and done attractively, would be a welcome walking route off the main avenues. I picture people walking their dogs, enjoying quiet strolls, and it would be a chance to upgrade homeowners yards along the path with new fencing, landscaping, etc.
Amtrak is doing this because the home owners abused the agreement and rented out the land to others
And putting up below ground swimming pools. What’s next? Beer gardens.
If you are talking about the “Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden” on 24 Ave. it is not under the Amtrack.
Yes they should not be harassed,people have maintained these properties for decades with no help from Amtrak. Also when hurricane Sandy hit many trees were knocked down in these yards and not once did Amtrak help to get rid of trees or replace them
so they are “hard working” they deserve something for nothing? Amtrak can certainly get more rent on that land that $50.
“…she noted that if her rent does increase that much she will likely have to move, given how integral the property is to her home. Over the years she has built a driveway, a deck with a pool, and a yard on the property.”….GIVE ME A BREAK! What a waste of a press conference.
If someone can afford to “built a driveway, a deck with a pool, and a yard on the property” and keep up with the maintenance in Astoria for such things then they can afford to pay more than 50 dollars a year to lease the land! I am sure that was why some purchased these homes in the first place. They wanted more yard space or space to park vehicles (rent them out). Try renting a garage in Astoria and it will cost you between 150-250 dollars a month! I know where this picture was taken on 23rd street and if you look a cross the street there is a huge parking lot that is a mess!
This is really, really unclear in the article, but my assumption is that the “rent” is for rental of the land and that the residents own the houses that are build on that land. Anyone know? If that’s the case, then Amtrak should stop extorting these people – that land under the tracks is of no use to Amtrak.
It’s for the the land next to or behide there homes under the arches or tracks
These people are not being extorted. They’ve been getting a free ride for decades. All of these people that lease this land from Amtrak for 50 bucks a year then turn around and rent 5 to 10 parking spaces to random people for 150 to 200 bucks a month. They are robbing Amtrak blind