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Tenants to owner: Don't kick us to the curb

Julia Shields, president of the Academy Gardens Tenants

Julia Shields, president of the Academy Gardens Tenants Association, speaks to fellow tenants and concerned citizens at Fellowship Hall of St. Paul's AME Zion Church in Great Neck on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

Tenants at a rent-stabilized apartment complex in Great Neck are rallying against the building owner's plan to raze the structure and construct market-rate condominiums, saying the move would shut them out of the village.

At a rally Sunday at the St. Paul AME Zion Church in Great Neck, Julia Shields, president of the Academy Gardens Tenants Association, urged the several dozen tenants and supporters present to pack the Feb. 20 meeting of the village's planning board, which is set to consider the site plan for the new 62-unit structure.

"We need everybody's help in this village to help us stay in our homes," Shields said.

Of the 40 units in the Middle Neck Road building, 27 are occupied -- many with minority families who have lived there for decades.

The tenants' attorney, Fred Pollack of Mineola, said the remaining tenants are being offered buyouts of $100,000 to $125,000, but not places in the new market-rate building or other apartments within Great Neck. Tenants now pay rent ranging from $750 to $1,700 a month, Pollack said.

"These people have lived here for decades. They've worked in the community," Pollack said. "There's no place for them to go."

George Shea, a spokesman for Kings Point Gate Associates, issued a statement Tuesday saying the company planned to "fully comply with all legal requirements," including compensating tenants who have to leave.

"We have contacted all the tenants and we have asked to meet with them to share the plans and address questions or concerns," Shea said in the statement. "We will continue to work with tenants throughout this process."

Great Neck Mayor Ralph Kreitzman said he felt "absolutely terrible" about the residents' predicament, but that the village has little power to help them. "We want them to stay, but I think our hands are tied," he said. "We don't control what an individual owner can do."

Shields, who has lived in the building since 1965, said she had "no idea" where she would go if her family had to leave.

"There's no affordable apartments" in Great Neck, she said.

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