New York’s decision to close down a swath of hostels which serve youth travelers had to be a tough call for a city known for welcoming tourists. And dealing with it has not been easy for HI-USA either.
If widely enforced, the new law – which requires closure of hotels and hostels not compliant with city regulations – is expected to take about 3,000 beds off the local market this summer. It is a distressing situation for wide-eyed youth and budget travelers who want to experience a fabulous city and have few affordable options, and for HI-USA which is seeking to promote low-cost experiential travel nationwide.
As an advocate for youth travel, HI-USA of course is interested in preserving quality hostel beds for travelers. And while HI-New York is open and unaffected, the hostel is woefully under-sized to accommodate the many travelers who will be displaced.
It’s a predicament. Every affordable bed allows another traveler access to an otherwise expensive city. But there are other important considerations as well. Let’s start with health and safety.
A hostel building may be “illegal” for any number of reasons. One is the conversion of a building from an apartment house to a hostel. It sounds inconsequential until you think about it. For example, that one bedroom apartment with a single resident might be illegally converted into a two room dormitory (living room plus bedroom) for ten. That’s up to ten times the number of residents than a building may have been built for. More people in a building likely require wider hallways and more fire exits in case of emergency. Adding up various health and safety infractions can quickly mean a potentially dangerous situation for all.
And then there is HI-USA’s uncommon place in the travel industry. We are a nonprofit, and at times we must listen differently and act differently than others. Here’s what we hear: the City found illegal conversions had become widespread in many neighborhoods and compounded an already acute shortage of affordable housing in the city. And not surprisingly, the City found mixing overnight guests with permanent residents – each with their different living needs – festered tensions among both.
It seems now that both youth travelers and city residents, each with their own focus on affordability, are suffering the painful consequences of a situation created by neither. How do we fix it?
Next to come: An Unprecedented Opportunity