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BREAKING! Hostel takeover in Williamsburg!

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Talk about a hostel living environment!

City officials raided and cleared a six-story Williamsburg building that contained two allegedly illegal hostels and dozens of residential tenants on Friday afternoon after an inspector found that the commercial building was not zoned for residential use.

Twenty hostel guests, mostly in their 20s and early 30s, and other residents were told to gather their things and leave the building by this evening. The Red Cross arrived at the scene shortly after 2 pm to provide emergency services including temporary housing for those with nowhere else to go.

“We were told we had a few hours to get out,” said Adriana Lee, an employee at Loftstel, one of the two hostels in the building. “Some people have been living here a couple of years.”

Two hostels, Loftstel and Zip112 Hostel, separately managed 12 apartments total, which could house up to 16 people each with a capacity of 192 people. Tenants, many of them international students and interns at local hospitals and the United Nations, paid upwards of $1,100 per month to live in the communal setting.

According to city officials, in addition to not having the proper permits, the building did not have a fire escape, sprinkler system or a secondary exit in case an emergency arises.

The owner of the building, Soonbin Kim, did not return calls for comment.

While the residents of Loftstel was evicted, guests at Zip112 were allowed to return to their rooms.

According to Zip112 President Young Yang, the city inspector was prepared to close the business, but after checking out the unit and noticing the second exit, the inspector permitted the company and its 10 tenants to stay.

Yang insisted that ZIP112 is a legally registered company and said that the building’s owner has been working with the city to work out any problems or violations.

“I don’t know what is going to happen next week,” said Yang. “If they are closing the whole building, eventually I may have to move out.”

Most of the building’s tenants were not guests at either hostel. City inspectors told residents that it could take more than a year to resolve vacate orders and bring the building up to code. For now, these tenants are couch-surfing until they can find another place to live.

“We are not just backpackers who can go home,” said one tenant who refused to give her name. “That was our home. We live there. Those were our apartments.”

The building is just one that contained what city officials estimate are dozens of hostels operating out of illegally converted warehouses, commercial buildings, and residential lofts. In some cases, the owner has launched the hostel, and in others, a tenant has sought to earn extra cash by converting his apartment into a mini-dormitory.

The proliferation of hostels and illegal hotels has so concerned residents and community leaders in Brooklyn that state legislators are proposing four bills that would make it illegal to rent residential buildings on a nightly basis.

Community leaders, including Community Board 1 member Ward Dennis, said that the vacate order was not surprising, given the proliferation of hostels and illegal building conversions in the neighborhood. He expects even more evacuations in the near future.

“Apartments are not built to the same code as transient hotels,” said Dennis “Putting 192 transient residents into a non-fireproof building designed for 20 or 30 residents is a recipe for disaster.”

Perhaps, but some locals were sympathetic to the evicted residents.

“It’s horrible!” said Ralph De La Rosa of Go Yoga, which occupies a first-floor business space. “The city should be doing something else instead of vacating them in this way.”

Assemblyman Joe Lentol (D-Williamsburg) agreed and blamed the building’s owner for not having the proper zoning and safety requirements for his business.

“This type of situation, where people are being kicked out on the street, should not be allowed to occur in the first place,” said Lentol. “It’s simply unacceptable. I never want to see people on the street in my district.”

While some tenants will be relocated, an apoplectic Adriana Lee is moving back in with her dad.

“I can’t really process this right now,” said Lee. “We’re shoving everything into our Honda Accord.”

Friday’s eviction comes at a crucial moment in the underground hostel scene. Earlier in the week, someone got wind of another clandestine hotel, this one in the old Glove Factory on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg. A Craigslist posting seeking “housekeepers” was quickly removed from the online classified Web site, apparently after someone figured out that the hostel might, in fact, be illegal.

Updated 6:15 pm, March 31, 2010: Updated to include a comment from one of the hostels' owners.
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Reasonable discourse

CPine from Boerum Hill says:
This is another example of the scarce and at times non-existent affordable housing in the boroughs of NYC.

Our lawmakers need to create and enforce affordable housing legislation that support owners and tenants.

There is nothing wrong in making money for owners and nothing wrong in tenants asking for affordable, safe housing.

What has happened in the past few years, are owners and developers desire not to just make 100% on their investment, but 500% if they can.

Tenants are being forced out of what was once affordable housing as their apartments become available for market rents to anyone who has a trust fund or Wall Street jobs.

While we all stand-by, watch, complain and DO NOTHING to demand affordable housing from each other.
March 28, 2010, 10:05 am
Michael from Bay Ridge says:
@CPine -
I think you are missing the point. At 1100 a month these people could easily have afforded a legal share or even their own apartment in another part of Brooklyn. There is no shortage of affordable housing, you just don't find it in the very center of the hippest neighborhood. Real estate prices reflect demand. These people should just find a legal apartment in a less trendy area.

How can affordable housing be created, or for that matter be distributed fairly?
There is already a system of public housing for the truly poor. Those who are not poor enough to qualify for that will just have to settle for housing that is as glamorous as they can afforrd. If they are wealthy it will be trendy housing in a fancy neighborhood. And if they aren't, it will be more modest housing in at a more modest location.
If they didn't know it was illegal, then i feel very sorry for them for this bad surprise, but if they knew, well you can't expect an illegal situation to be protected or secure.
March 28, 2010, 6:28 pm
williamsburger from bushwick/williamsburg says:
hey michael, you only say that cuz you pay 1100/month for a sh*thole apartment in east jabib bay ridge, which is the lamest part of brooklyn. might as well move to long island or queens buddy. williamsburg is where its at, and sometimes its tough to find a place being from another country with the credit checks, that sometimes you are forced to take whatever you can find on craigslist or be stuck on the street calling moishes storage. ofcourse people pay extra to live so close to manhattan, not spend 50 minutes commuting home from manhattan.
March 29, 2010, 4:59 am
Chad from Park Slope says:
@williamsburger

I think that Michael is right. He isn't saying that you shouldn't live in Williamsburg, or that Bay Ridge is the place to be, he is just saying that WB is expensive because it's trendy and nice.
If you can afford it, great - and if you can't - well that's jsut how it goes. Live where you can afford to.
March 29, 2010, 6:55 am
Guy from Williamsburg says:
This whole incident is clearly disturbing. The bottom four floors of the building were occupied by regular tenants, and the top floor was occupied by the illegal hostel.

The owner of the building, Yang Young, clearly used a vacate order to evacuate the tenants so that he could expand the entire building into a hostel. How else can you explain that his hostel is in full operation while rent-paying tenants are out on the street? We couldn't believe it until we called the hostel ourselves pretending to take a reservation.

If the city or the Department of Buildings was truly concerned about safety, they would have (a) closed down the entire building, including the Zip112 Hostel and (b) at least given the existing tenants reasonable advance notice to move out. To expect it to be OK to throw out rent-paying tenants within 2 hours is completely unacceptable.

Shame on you, DOB, for working with greedy landlords!
March 29, 2010, 11:31 am
Organizer from Brooklyn says:
If you were a tenant kicked out on Friday from one of these apartments, please contact: Ryan Kuonen at Neighbors Allied for Good Growth
718.384.2248.
You're not alone in this!
March 29, 2010, 1 pm
Jackie from williamsburg says:
The Glove Factory is a residential space, not an illegal hostel of this nature
March 31, 2010, 4:09 pm
Christian Ihle from Germany says:
Hi there,

i really need some help, guys!

I made a reservation on the williamsburg Loftstel which was shut down and had to pay $1800 in advance. Yesterday I found out, that it was shut down. I didn't get any notice! Not only that I have no place to live when I will arrive in two weeks, I also NEVER RECEIVED A REFUND OF MY $1800.
I already tried to seek help at the other two Loftstel hostels, but when I called them they just said "sorry I don't know anything; I can't help" and hung up!

There must be someone who takes responsibility musn't be?
Here is my Emailadress: "ihlechris@googlemail.com"

Thank you
Christian Ihle
Oct. 15, 2010, 4:15 am
Annoyed from Bedford-Stuyvesant says:
I live close to the remaining hostel in Bed-Stuy. It should absolutely be shut down. This is a residential neighborhood, and Loftstel is definitely the largest public nuisance within blocks of here. Sure, everyone has a party once in a while, after all, it's Brooklyn, but EVERY night Wed. through Sun. the rotating group of guests really are very disrespectful and using the backyard space to have their own b.s. find-themselves experiences when the rest of us are trying to sleep. At the rates they have listed, people can definitely find apartment shares in the neighborhood for similar prices (with a lot more space too). It's a rip-off, a scam, and shouldn't be allowed in a residential neighborhood.
March 19, 2011, 2:36 am

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