Monday, November 30, 2015

A new bill proposes bringing back "cheap,
convenient, and safe accommodations." Airbnb should be worried.
Those of us who fondly remember the down-and-dirty hostel
stays of our youth (such as, say, during a dodgy month hitchhiking around New
Zealand) will note with glee—or perhaps fear—the introduction of
legislation in New York City intending to restore the city's hostel culture.
In 2010, amNew York reports, 55 hostels around Gotham were shut down after
the "Illegal Hotel Bill" passed the state legislature.
But this February,
former City Council member Mark Weprin introduced a bill to reintroduce
hostels in commercial parts of the city.
(After Weprin resigned in June,
councilwoman Margaret Chin took up the bill's mantle.) "This
legislation is about leveling the playing field when it comes to providing
inexpensive accommodations for travelers—especially for young travelers from
foreign countries," Councilwoman Chin's office told us in an emailed
statement.‎ "Back in 2010, state legislation amending our city's
Multiple Dwelling Law and Administrative Code unwittingly caused the
elimination of some 50 youth hostels. This legislation would address that
unintended consequence by once more giving hostels the ability to grow to meet
increasing demand for cheap, convenient, and safe accommodations.‎"
Chin spokesman Paul Leonard told us that the issue is essentially twofold:
reviving healthy competition and ameliorating the affordable housing
crisis.
"What we're identifying is a situation where one
company—Airbnb—seems to have complete control of the market in this one
sphere … for affordable accommodations for people who are looking for
something safe, convenient, affordable, a place that they can experience
everything that NYC has to offer." Hostels, he notes, are a mainstay in
every other major city across the world.
(In New York City, there are only a
handful, operated largely as hotels.) As Chin expresses it in a statement,
"Current law doesn't just bar the expansion of youth hostels.
It
eliminates the competition for Airbnb, which is taking thousands of units of
affordable housing off the rental market. Without alternative,
reasonably-priced accommodations, youth travelers will either continue to
sidestep the Big Apple, or worse yet, hunt for illegal apartment rentals
through Airbnb, accelerating our affordability crisis." "Air BNB is
taking thousands [of units] off the rental market," says Leonard.
"We're
introducing a cheap, safe, affordable alternative.
Not to mention that the
city is missing out on what [some people are calling] a billion dollar youth
industry." Of course, technically, renting homes via Airbnb is illegal
for many Gotham tenants—but although it's slowed the company's roll a
little bit, it hasn't squelched the market.
Far from it.
Hostel culture, if revived in New York, would potentially be a game-changer
in the short-term rental market.
One wonders whether Councilwoman Chin's
constituents—she represents district 1 in New York, in lower
Manhattan—have been clamoring for this legislation, which some might say
favors landlords.
Leonard suggested in response to our question on that front
that it's more "an issue of fairness." Regardless, it'll be
interesting to see whether the legislation passes, and young travelers might
be wise to keep an eye on it. Those of us who fondly
remember the down-and-dirty hostel stays of our youth will note with glee—or
perhaps fear—the introduction of legislation in New York City intending to
restore the city's hostel culture.

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