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Politics

Astoria Officials, Residents Denounce Big Amtrak Rent Hike

August 25, 2016

NEW YORK— Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens, the Bronx), Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, along with New York State Assemblymember Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), and New York City Council Member Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), were joined by local residents at a press conference 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 an unconscionable annual rent increase – in some cases as much as 100,000 percent or tens of thousands of dollars.

Politicians who spoke said that the exorbitant increase is unprecedented and would place a heavy burden on the budget of households of up to tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Politicians and residents of Astoria asked Amtrak to reconsider the issue, as the astronomical rent increases are unacceptable to tenants. Astoria Assemblymember Aravella Simotas noted that New York State Senator Michael Giannaris also supports the fight against the Amtrak rent increases, though he was unable to attend the press conference.

Simotas spoke with the National Herald, pointing out that it is unacceptable to ask longtime residents who were paying $25 to $50 a month to pay $25-30,000 a year to rent the space.

“Instead of thanking the residents of Astoria for taking care of the space under the bridge, keeping it clean, and protecting it, Amtrak decides to impose unacceptable rent increases,” Simotas said.

President of the Greek-American Homeowners Association, George Kitsios expressed his disgust at Amtrak’s decision and said, “Their decision to increase the rent by up to a hundred thousand percent is unacceptable. As you know, the City of New York for the last two years froze rents on lease renewals for a year consistently property owners cannot bear the same tax increases, along with rising water, insurance, and heating costs. It is unacceptable for a federal authority to impose astronomical increases on the rental space.”

Simotas added, “The Greeks and others Astoria residents who rent the space under Hell Gate Bridge clean and protect the bridge and at the same time enhance the quality of life of Astoria. Imagine what would happen if the owners of adjacent properties stopped taking care of the space under the bridge? It would be a place to dump garbage and a convenient location for drug addicts to congregate, among other negative phenomena. Astoria is such a safe and clean area of Queens due to property owners who are hard-working people.”

Hell Gate Bridge is one of the oldest railway bridges spanning the East River and connects Queens to the Bronx via Randall’s and Wards Islands. The first leg of the Queens section is in Astoria Park. The elevated railway line passes over Astoria and the spaces under the arches of the bridge are rented by the residents of Astoria.

In a statement to the National Herald, Amtrak said:

“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.”

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