A ray of hope for youth hostels

As businesses cautiously reopen, workers at outstations seek very limited-time contracts with hostels and PGs

A year and a half into the pandemic, many hostels and paid accommodation (as hostels are sometimes loosely called) are still closed in Chennai. However, with the easing of lockdown restrictions, some businesses looking to run their offices with a safe small percentage of their workforce each day, there is a silver lining for hostels. Nowhere is this ray brighter than at Rajiv Gandhi Salai, popularly known as Old Mahabalipuram Road, which holds the lion’s share of PGs in Chennai, thanks to the IT industry.

A few others around Anna Nagar and Ambattur are known to support a population of remote students who are undergoing UPSC coaching.

Professionals point out that they have reopened some of their branches based on requests from former residents.

Subadharshini Hari, who runs a women’s hostel with branches in Perungudi and Thoraipakkam (two other branches she ran were closed last year), says they opened both earlier this month after they closed during the second wave.

Short trip

“In one facility we currently have 25 working women and in another, ten,” says Subadharshini of the Feel at Home women’s hostel. She says a majority booked the place for a short stay, say for a month. Subadharshin sees three categories of occupiers: some go to work daily, a few go two or three times a week, and a small percentage work from the hostel and only go there when there is a need.

“All my occupants are those who work in small businesses. Some have been asked to work for a short period in Chennai and be prepared to move to their hometowns if there is a third wave, which is why the average contract length these station employees seek is a month,” she said.

Pramod Chakaravarthy, originally from Coimbatore, moved to the Royal Palace Paying Guest for Men at Shanthi Colony in Anna Nagar earlier this year to attend UPSC classes in person at a nearby coaching centre.

He says that the working population that comes to the PG is a floating crowd. “Some of them have odd jobs and stay in these places for a few months. However, the students preparing for the civil service competitions have opted for a longer stay,” he explains.

Coverage of operating costs

Many in this business say that the number of people occupying such facilities is small, but they are happy to open their premises.

Indeed, a majority of these players continue to pay rent to the owners of these spaces, so even if a small number of people were using the facility, it would help cover some of the rental costs.

Green Home Ladies Hostel operated five branches on OMR during the pre-COVID days.

“We have opened two and they are operating with 25% occupancy,” says G. Karthick, Facility Owner and Treasurer of Tamil Nadu IT Hostel and Owners Welfare Association. He says that 95% of gamers operating on OMR depend on the IT mob. “The people who move into our facilities are those who work in non-IT industries,” he says.

In addition to renting it out to professionals, the establishment also has families who reserve the space for a short period of one or two months.

“Some of them are working professionals who have left town and come back to take on an important mission; and a few are on gig assignments,” says Karthick.

Angel Hostels for Working Women has also started receiving enquiries. Its store in Thoraipakkam recently welcomed 10 people and its branch in Navalur is expected to reopen in a few weeks.

“Running a center with a 10 or 20 sf occupancy might not sound great, but it’s something to start with.

Only with the pandemic receding and more companies adopting a hybrid work model can good business be expected. Recently, a multinational company said it planned to call 25% of its employees to the office by September; if so many of us are back in business,” says G. Jaganathan, Chairman of South Chennai Hostel and PG Owners Association.

Linda G. Ibarra