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CITY PLANS TO OUST HOMELESS MINISTRY SAYS PRAYER & PRAISE FELLOWSHIP OWES $241,000 IN BACK TAXES

A former retirement home housing Prayer & Praise Fellowship, a homeless ministry opposed by its neighbors on Linwood Avenue, will be sold in October at a city tax auction unless $241,000 in back taxes is paid by then.

City officials have listed the property at 221 Linwood near Bryant Street among tax-delinquent properties they intend to sell to the highest bidder.

News of the tax sale comes as the city Law Department, armed with a favorable court ruling earlier this month, renews a lawsuit to force out the homeless ministry for failing to abide by city zoning laws.

Prayer & Praise contends its two-story building is a church not subject to city zoning and again this past week refused the city's order to leave the building.

"I ordered them to cease and desist and they failed to respond," said Matthew Baudo, the city's director of housing and property inspections.

Lawyers for Prayer & Praise could not be reached to comment.

City Comptroller Joel A. Giambra, who collects money owed the city, said Thursday that City Hall should grant no forgiveness of property taxes owed by Prayer & Praise.

"We ought to use every means available to us to collect these back taxes from Prayer & Praise," Giambra said.

Prayer & Praise says it houses up to 40 men in yearlong discipleships, many of them from New York City and most formerly with drug problems. The Rev. Richard Armenia, whose ministry includes the Rev. David Rich as house pastor, has denied that his clients have caused any neighborhood problems.

Mr. Armenia said that his group intends to continue its fight to stay. Prayer & Praise previously has been forced from sites in Lancaster and at the Shrine of St. Jude Church on Elk Street.

Joseph J. Tanzella, the city's assessment commissioner, said the ministry was granted an exemption from property taxes last November based on Prayer & Praise's non-profit status with the state and federal government.

But that exemption, he said, only exempts the ministry from current and future property taxes. It does not excuse Prayer & Praise from paying taxes owed when it bought the building in a bankruptcy proceeding involving Robert Bradley, a former nursing home owner.

"No organization, no matter who it is, can get those back taxes forgiven," said Tanzella.

Neighbors of the Linwood Avenue facility, who include a number of lawyers, said the same tax bill was due when Prayer & Praise bought the building last year. They faulted city officials for failing to include it in last year's sale of delinquent properties.

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