2016-08-31 / Front Page

'Obscene' Increase

Protest ‘Obscene’ Rent Increase By Amtrak


Rep. Joe Crowley, NYS Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and NYC Council Member Costa Constantinides are joined by 23rd Street residents (l. to r.); Anthony Paratore, Herbert Brown, Mary Brown, Loretta Csikortis and her grandson Daniel, Rose Nagy, and Georgina Camilleri. Rep. Joe Crowley, NYS Assemblymember Aravella Simotas and NYC Council Member Costa Constantinides are joined by 23rd Street residents (l. to r.); Anthony Paratore, Herbert Brown, Mary Brown, Loretta Csikortis and her grandson Daniel, Rose Nagy, and Georgina Camilleri. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx), Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, along with NYS Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) and NYC Council Member Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), were joined by local residents at a press conference August 25 to denounce Amtrak’s “exorbitant rent increase” for homeowners who live adjacent to the trusses of the Hell Gate Bridge, which is operated by the agency.

For decades, Amtrak has leased the property underneath the trusses to homeowners for a nominal fee which releases the agency from the burden of maintaining the premises. Residents were given a 30-day notice to accept a huge annual rent increase – in some cases as much as 100,000%, or tens of thousands of dollars.

“These are the kinds of tactics we expect from slumlords, not from Amtrak. The truth is, Amtrak is railroading hardworking families into renewing a lease with an unprecedented and obscene rent increase, and that’s just not right,” said Crowley. “These homeowners are doing the job that Amtrak has a lousy track record of doing – maintaining their property. Amtrak claims the premises are substantially undervalued, but what’s clear is that the longstanding members of our community are the ones who are truly undervalued in this situation. I urge Amtrak to not just to be a better landlord, but to be a better neighbor and treat our homeowners reasonably and respectfully.”

“Astoria’s hard-working homeowners have been maintaining, preserving and beautifying Amtrak’s property for nearly 70 years,” said Simotas. “They’ve acted as stewards of this land and for Amtrak to now demand exorbitant rent from these residents is a twisted and unconscionable way for the company to try to get its finances out of the red. In exchange for token rent the homeowners were given use of the land, which was a mutually beneficial agreement. Frankly, Amtrak should be paying these homeowners for their upkeep of Amtrak’s property. Without these homeowners, this land, like other Amtrak properties in our community could have easily deteriorated into heaps of trash and overgrown weeds.”

“This huge rent increase is unconscionable. Amtrak has been neglecting these premises and expecting nearby homeowners to keep them clean,” said Constantinides. “To now charge the homeowners up to tens of thousands of dollars per month for this property is indefensible. Our community has taken responsibility for keeping Amtrak property clean for decades. I join Congressman Crowley and Assemblymember Simotas and our homeowners in protesting this exorbitant rent increase."

“This has been my family’s backyard since 1936 – I remember celebrating birthdays here as a kid,” said Anthony Paratore, a resident of 23rd Street. “I want to know who is going to make sure the area is clean and safe, if we can’t afford to pay this ridiculous rent.”

In a letter addressed to homeowners, Amtrak argues that a review of the lease and the premises it covers indicates the lease is substantially undervalued. For some, the rent will go up from $25 annually to over $26,000 annually. Failure to approve the new rental amount would result in the termination of the lease 30 days from the notice.

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