Proposed city bill would permit youth hostels

By Tom Momberg

City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) has introduced legislation that would permit the operation of youth hostels within commercial districts in the five boroughs.

New York City does not have a law that recognizes youth hostels, and many stopped operating after the state Legislature passed an illegal hotel law in 2010 that clarified operating residential apartments as a transient hotel is illegal.

“I think it was inadvertent,” Weprin said. “This new legislation would not supersede the state law, but would set up an actual license for operating a youth hostel, and will have to follow the same fire codes as hotels.”

Since 2010 hostels have operated in New York City with hotel licenses, unable to offer affordable rooms for more than four people on a transient basis.

The justification as described in the 2010 state law: “There is a more than adequate supply of legitimate hotels with accommodations in all price ranges. Should the growth of tourism result in increased demand for hotel rooms in the future, commercially zoned areas of the city allow widespread opportunities for new legitimate hotels.”

Weprin’s proposal would allow for private licensed establishments in commercial districts only to offer up to eight beds in a room for young people and their families or chaperones to stay on short-term bases. He estimated hostel rates would be between $30 and $60 a night.

There have been a few unsuccessful attempts to resurrect operating licenses for youth hostels in the city since then, but Weprin said now might be the time if the city realized how many potential tourism dollars have been turned away in the past five years.

“This will not affect the business of hotels in the city,” Weprin said. “ We think this will generate great revenue citywide.”

Hostelworld, an international travel and booking agency, which has been lobbying to get legislation passed to expand the youth travel sector in the city, estimated the market for travel bookings in the city would add roughly $178 million in annual spending on boarding alone, creating jobs.

“Young international travelers are currently sidestepping the five boroughs because they cannot afford to lodge here,” said Hostelworld CEO Feargal Mooney in a statement. “The authorization of New York City Youth Hostel legislation would result in hundreds of millions of new tourist dollars reaching Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Staten Island commercial districts, in addition to more spending at Manhattan tourist destinations.”

Hostelworld said he believed the 2010 hotel law resulted in the closure of over 50 hostels and that the city has since missed out on about $1.2 billion in tourism spending.

Former state Assemblyman Jerry Kramer of Long Island has been lobbying on Hostelworld’s behalf. He said such legislation would give independent developers the incentive to renovate abandoned warehouses in commercial districts to be used as youth hostels.

“If passed, the law would create new construction jobs as well as long-term positions working in this unique hospitality industry,” Kramer said in a statement. “Hotels in the city are beyond the price range for the typical youth hotel guest.”

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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