Despite Migrant Arrivals, There’s No Shortage of Hotel Rooms in New York
Thousands of migrants have come to New York City in the past two weeks, fueling what Mayor Eric Adams called “one of the great humanitarian crises” in the city’s history, as officials struggle to find places to house them.
In particular, Mr. Adams has spoken repeatedly about the city’s program to put migrants up in hotels, suggesting that the homeless newcomers were hurting the tourism industry and taking rooms away from vacationers.
For now, however, there are thousands of unoccupied hotel rooms in New York City, the largest hotel market in the country, reflecting the reality that the industry has not yet fully rebounded from the pandemic.
As of mid-May, there were more than 20,500 rooms available every night in the five boroughs, according to the hotel data company STR, suggesting that there was space to accommodate both tourists and migrants.
The Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, which represents workers at hotels that comprise 70 percent of the city’s rooms, said about 3,500 rooms in unionized hotels were being used to house asylum seekers.
Many more migrants are staying in nonunionized hotels. Overall, as of last week, about 42,500 migrants who have arrived in recent months were currently living in New York City, and the majority were staying in hotels, according to city officials. Mr. Adams said on Monday that about 5,800 migrants arrived last week, and 4,200 came the week before.
Unlike other large American cities, New York City has a mandate to provide shelter to anyone who asks.
STR said that the city’s hotel occupancy had increased a few points in recent months, but that the increase mirrored the typical seasonal gain as more tourists visit in the spring.
The use of hotels for migrants doesn’t hurt the tourist industry, said Vijay Dandapani, the chief executive of the Hotel Association of New York City, which represents 300 hotels in the city. “There hasn’t been a negative impact so far,” he said. “Hotel rooms remain available.”
For months, Mr. Adams has raised the alarm about what he calls a humanitarian and economic crisis that the city has spent $1 billion addressing so far and that may cost as much as $4.3 billion through June 2024. Yet, at times he has embellished the impact: On Thursday, he said that half the hotels in the city were occupied by asylum seekers. City Hall officials later clarified that it was only 40 percent of a set of mostly midsize hotels deemed suitable to house the migrants.
Of the 150 sites being used to shelter migrants, about 140 of them are hotels where few, if any, rooms were unoccupied, the city said.
Mr. Dandapani said that because tourism in the city has not fully recovered, some hotels had decided to accept migrants as another source of revenue. In Manhattan, the hotels collect about $185 per night, he said. (The average room rate for all hotels in New York City was $297.90, STR said, the highest in the country.)
Through May 13, nearly 86 percent of New York City’s hotel rooms were occupied over the previous month, according to STR. That rate was up 8.4 percent from the same time last year and is the highest among all large markets in the United States, the group said, but was still 5 percent below the city’s rate for the same period before the pandemic.
Many of the rooms occupied by migrants have been paid for through a bulk contract with the Hotel Association of New York City Foundation, which signed a $237 million deal that started in September.
City Hall officials said that while the business may help hoteliers, the hotels that house migrants do not pay a 5.875 percent occupancy tax to the city, as they must on rooms for tourists.
“Every day, we receive hundreds of additional asylum seekers and we are out of space,” said Fabien Levy, a spokesman for Mr. Addams. “Our city is known for its world-class hotels, and we need to ensure they can continue to service the tens of millions of tourists who visit the five boroughs each year.”
On Monday, Mr. Adams continued to call attention to the influx of migrants. He and Gov. Kathy Hochul sought to show a unified front at a news conference, urging the federal government to expedite work permits for asylum seekers, who she said were eager to find legal employment in the country.
Ms. Hochul, a Democrat, framed the need for expedited work authorization as a potential solution not only to the migrant crisis, but also to a labor shortage in the state, saying that many migrants could help fill thousands of low-skilled jobs in restaurants and in To install farms upstate.
“They’re eager to work,” Ms. Hochul said at a restaurant worker training facility in Industry City in Brooklyn. “They came here in search of work and a new future, and they can become part of our economy and part of our communities.”
By pitching the influx of asylum seekers as a potential economic boon for the state, the governor may have been seeking to appeal to local officials outside New York City who have resisted any efforts to house migrants in their communities.
She said state officials were searching New York for state-run facilities that could serve as temporary housing, including empty dorms at public universities over the summer, as well as shuttered psychiatric centers and, potentially, closed correctional facilities.
Mr. Adams called on the White House to meet their requests, while stressing that the current situation was not sustainable. “It is creating an underground market where individuals could be exploited, unable to pay into our tax base, working long and difficult and dangerous jobs because they are living in the shadow of the American dream,” he said.
Luis Ferré-Sadurní contributed reporting.