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New York City could make hostels legal under a bill, set to be introduced this week in the City Council, that would permit the super-budget accommodations to operate again after a state law made them illegal, the Wall Street Journal reports. The bill would provide hostels with their own separate department and classification under city law. The city’s hostels all but disappeared after a 2010 law covering multiple dwellings took aim at short-term rentals.
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The 2010 bill was a blow to hostels, which offer communal lodgings often sought by younger travelers looking for a cheap place to stay in an expensive city. Hostels never fell under clear definitions in the city’s building codes; before the ban, they were subject to the same regulations as apartments. The changing regulatory landscape left a very limited number of hostels in the city.
The bill’s co-sponsors, Council Member Mark Gjonaj, a Democrat representing parts of the Bronx and Council Member Margaret Chin, a Democrat who represents parts of Manhattan, say a lack of more affordable choices makes NYC city less accessible to tourists, and that re-authorizing hostels could help the city fight illegal Airbnb rentals which many argue limit the city’s stock of affordable housing. With the city’s hotels averaging $200 a night at the very least, Gjonaj said: “We want to give people another option and not take away from our current housing stock or current hotels.”
The new hostel bill would have the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs create an independent office and director to license and regulate hostels. The office would handle complaints and enforce safety standards. The bill defines a hostel as any building with over 70 percent of its rooms identified as hostel units.
A similar bill was introduced in 2015 but failed to make it to a council vote. A bill passed in 2018–after the hostel ban–requiring Airbnb to disclose the names and addresses of hosts to a city agency has made headway in keeping the home-stay juggernaut in check.
But will the thrifty traveler’s communal hostel model work in the current tourism landscape? Some of the city’s hostel owners have been re-working the way hostels are perceived by adding on-trend design elements and amenities like yoga and bars–similar in spirit to the growing trend of co-working and co-living.
Rafael Museri, the co-founder of the hostel and hotel company Selina, whose hostels offer a mix of rooms at different price points, plans to open three hotels in Manhattan within the next year under the city’s current laws: “Buildings that offer more variety of rooms generate more revenue and open the door of New York to an amazing and global crowd that currently can’t enjoy this beautiful city. We just want people to have fun and socialize.”
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