Every year the town and the county TDAs (Explore Boone) send out an update including the amount of revenues collected from occupancy taxes, and this year they announced in the 2020/2021 fiscal year, the Watauga County TDA collected $3,976,078.16, which was a 90.62 percent increase over the 2019/2020 fiscal year, and the Boone TDA collected $1,927,222.20, a 32.09 percent increase over the previous year.
The primary function of the TDA is to take these funds and promote tourism to our area as well as fund infrastructure projects that in turn can drive more visitors to our county. Under normal circumstances these are worthwhile endeavors, but right now our county faces a critical housing shortage for local workers. These are the folks that work in our shops, restaurants and lodging establishments, and they are running out of places to live.
The contributions to this crisis are well known. Apartments in town are built for students, and even if they allow workers and local families they are astronomically overpriced for what you get. The rise in short-term rental properties such as Airbnbs (which certainly contributes a large amount to occupancy taxes) have drastically cut the amount of long-term rentals available to locals in the area.
In an area that relies on tourism to bring money into our economy we have completely failed to invest in the people that contribute to making Boone such a desirable location to visit.
It is time to take those tourism dollars and invest in our human infrastructure. Yes, new trails are nice to have, but those of us in the hospitality and retail industries have seen first-hand this year how unsustainable a labor shortage is, and it needs to be addressed immediately by our county and town leaders before it is too late. Perhaps relief comes in the form of a moderately-priced development or simply a subsidy for landlords that provide affordable long-term rentals, but people need places to live or they have to leave, it’s as simple as that.