Residential Conversion of Former Hudson Hotel Torments Long-Time Tenants

Before the pandemic, Midtown’s Hudson Hotel, located a block south of Columbus Circle, was a prime party destination for New Yorkers and tourists alike. It had everything, from expensive boutiques, to fancy bars, to beautiful rooms overlooking Central Park.

But today, dirty vents blow air through its residential floors, disturbing the plastic sheeting that fills the hallways of the 20th floor. A large sign warns the tenants of a lead hazard and exposed wiring hangs from the ceilings.

CSC Coliving, a corporation owned by Alberto Smeke, is working with Elysium Construction to convert the hotel into an apartment building. For its long-time residents, this means that their living situation has taken on a nightmarish quality.

This dull-looking brown building, whose appearance hardly denotes the glamorous lifestyle it once represented, has 38 registered Single-Room Occupancy units. This is a rare subset of rent-stabilized housing which became popular in the 1940s.

The hotel’s residential conversion has presented a slew of escalating problems for the tenants who still live there. Many have called this building home for decades.

“I very, very seriously feel homeless because I don’t have my own home at the moment,” said long-time tenant Tess, who along with other building residents asked that only their first names be used because they fear retaliation from the building’s new owner.

Tess has lived in her apartment on the 15th floor for 39 years, she said. She was pregnant with her second child when construction began on her floor in November of last year. Dust filled the hallway outside her apartment, debris fell from the ceiling and exposed wiring became the new norm. She said she even saw a severed electrical wire near a water leak.

“I can’t trust that my kids will be safe there,” she said.

As the construction dust began to present a hazard to the air quality in her hallway, she worried that, over the course of the construction, the lead problem she had discovered in 2009 would lead to health problems for her children. Lead is well known to damage the nervous systems and brain development of young children.

According to documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Law Request, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a summons to Smeke for a September 28 hearing. The summons confirms that repeated inspections found the construction dust to be a possible risk to tenants’ health, and that Smeke did not address these concerns. The presence of lead on the floor could not be confirmed.

The other residents, who all stayed, face other problems, none of which have been officially addressed by the building owners, Alberto Smeke, and his company, CSC Coliving. They are often forced to use only one elevator – the construction elevator – which they say increases wait times and exposes them to dust and debris. In an emergency, the homebound or disabled residents and the elderly on upper floors could be trapped.

New York City’s Housing Preservation Department has documented 68 tenant complaints about the Hudson and issued 29 housing violations since the renovations began in mid-2022. The complaints describe a consistent lack of hot water and heat, peeling paint, exposed wiring and rodents.

“Essential services were in upheaval during all that time,” said Raul, who has lived on an upper floor of the building with his wife Renata for over 20 years. “Water came and went.”

Last year, Renata lost her storage space to the construction. She was given less than a day to remove her and Raul’s dust-covered belongings.

“I freaked out,” she said. “I had to throw half of it away.”

Neither CSC Coliving, nor the Housing Preservation Department responded to multiple emails and phone calls seeking comment.

According to New York City law, new property owners like CSC Coliving must obtain a Certificate of No Harassment before they can apply for a permit to demolish or change the occupancy of any part of the building. This Certificate affirms that the owner did not intentionally harass tenants into leaving their homes, or otherwise deprive them of their rights as tenants, during the period before the application. After interviews with tenants early last year, the owner’s initial application for the certificate was denied. When HPD issued the denial, Smeke was legally required to cease work on the occupied floors immediately according to city law. This did not happen.

Work continued until the local community board successfully pressured the Department of Buildings to issue a partial stop work order in February. The order is still in effect today, prohibiting work on tenant-occupied floors, though it continues on empty ones. CSC Coliving’s second application for a Certificate of No Harassment is still pending.

This October, the local community board drafted a letter to send to the Housing Preservation Department requesting the denial of the Hudson owner’s application for the Certificate of No Harassment. Recently, the tenants obtained a letter, sent to Smeke by HPD on September 25, confirming the need for a future hearing concerning these harassment allegations.

If tenants and the community board are successful and the application is rejected, the entire future of the building will be called into question.

“The Department of Buildings is aware of issues at 353 W 57th street and has taken numerous enforcement actions against the building owner over the last few years,” the department said in a statement. “The building has been subjected to a Partial Stop Work Order, after inspectors found extensive interior work being performed that did not conform to approved plans.”

For Tess, this is not enough.

“Somebody is going to get hurt,” she said. “Something bad is going to happen and I don’t want to be the person that happens to.”

About the author(s)

Lauren Dalban, originally from London, is currently a Master’s student at the Graduate School of Journalism.