Buncombe County, NC
When the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority began considering an increase in its occupancy tax in 2015, local advocates requested that one percent of the tax be dedicated to affordable housing, child care and/or transit. The occupancy tax in North Carolina is a tax on the stay in hotels or other accommodations. The one percent allocation would generate over $2 million in revenue to support families throughout the county. The occupancy tax was raised in Buncombe County by two percent, but the increase was designated to tourism marketing.
Occupancy Tax Usually Funds Tourism
While occupancy tax is a potentially significant source of revenue in North Carolina, especially for tourist- based economies, it has traditionally funded tourism promotion and marketing efforts for an area.
NC General Assembly Sets Use and Rate for Occupancy Tax
The occupancy tax rate for a given locality is set by the NC General Assembly and the designation of funds raised also is set by the General Assembly through a local bill. (A local bill has limited application, affecting fewer than 15 counties.)
Getting to Action
In 2010, Children First/Communities in Schools of Buncombe County launched a listening project to document the experience of families facing poverty in their communities. More than 100 low-income people, including teens, mothers and service providers participated in focus groups and interviews. They represented a wide geographic range: from public housing in the city, the Emma community, south Asheville, east Asheville and Barnardsville.
These listening sessions formed the foundation of Success Equation, an initiative that launched a year later to “inspire and sustain a local movement to reduce the incidence of poverty and its impact on children.” Foundational to that effort is collaboration across service providers, community leaders, residents and advocates in the areas of early child development, child and family supports and family economic stability.
Key aspects of the work include aligning and connecting services to support families through the Family Resource Center Roundtable, identifying state and local policy opportunities to boost support for poverty reduction locally and building public awareness of the issues and evidence-based solutions that can lead to change in Buncombe communities.
Documenting the challenges of low income people through the listening tour provided authenticity and credibility to the Success Equation’s focus on early childhood, affordable housing and transit.
Given that the occupancy tax rate and purposes are set by the NC General Assembly, advocates needed to work not only with local leaders and elected officials, but state officials as well. Local and state elected leaders were supportive of exploring alternative uses of the tax. However, the issue did not have the support of the local Tourism Development Authority nor leadership in the General Assembly.
The Success Equation did not play an active role in the occupancy tax negotiations – but Children First/ Communities in Schools staff did meet with elected officials in support of leveraging the tax for affordable housing. As a result of local media coverage, the community is more aware of the occupancy tax and there is a growing sentiment expressed in traditional and social media for those taxes to address community needs. The Success Equation will need to decide if there is merit to continue this effort.