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Buncombe County Should Prioritize Making the TDA More Democratic

by Andrew P.
December 7, 2022

This member commentary post does not necessarily reflect the views of Asheville For All or its members.

On Monday, I delivered a public comment at the Buncombe County Commissioner meeting that I want to share below.

First, some quick background:

Buncombe County collects an occupancy tax from every hotel, home-stay, and short term rental in the county. All of the money that gets collected goes to an institution called the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, or TDA.

The TDA’s rules are written by the state legislature, not the city or county. And the state has decided that the money that Buncombe County collects in occupancy taxes must be entirely spent on tourism-related programs. In fact, 66 percent of that money must be used for tourism advertising alone.

Recently, the Buncombe County Commission has signaled that revisiting the occupancy tax and the TDA—and determining what can be done at the county level to push back at the state legislature’s rules—is a possible priority for the 2023 session.

To learn more about the TDA, the occupancy tax, and the movement to make the TDA more attentive to the local needs of the county, check out the Buncombe Decides website.

* * *

Hi everyone.

My name is Andrew Paul and I live here in Asheville.

And I’m a founder of Asheville For All, which is a nonprofit organization that advocates for pro-housing policy.

And I’m here to express support for making the occupancy tax more democratic.

The occupancy tax should be spent on the people that need it most. And on the things they say they need the most.

For our county that means subsidized housing.

It’s that simple.

But I want to use some of my time to say two things as a means of clarifying what I think this occupancy tax fight should be about.

First of all, I’m not anti-tourism. I’m not even anti-hotel.

Let’s be real. When people criticize the TDA and tourism money, sometimes they say things that are reactionary. They will say things like we need to prevent people from moving here. Or we need to prevent population growth full stop.

This line of argument should not be taken seriously.

Truth is that successful cities and successful counties grow. If our county is growing that is a good sign. We should welcome new neighbors, and see them as assets to our cities and towns.


We know that allocating money for affordable housing does NOT help if we don’t reform our zoning codes. Cities from California to Massachusetts have actually voted for subsidized home construction and then little got built because of exclusionary zoning. The biggest thing we can do to make housing more affordable is simply allowing more stuff to be built.

And that costs virtually nothing.

But having cleared up those two points:

We know that growth can incur costs, and that tourism and tourism advertising DOES add to housing demand. And we also know that although adding more homes for EVERY kind of family is crucial, it’s always going to be necessary to support the bottom end, to help out those who struggle MOST with housing costs.

And these are the very people that work in our tourism industry.

So right now, there’s a big pot of money that’s going to tourism advertising, when most residents in the county have better ideas on how that money should be spent. AGAIN we know that spending more on subsidized housing is chief among those ideas.

So I hope that the county will have serious discussions about how we make the occupancy tax more democratic.

And I hope we’ll talk about this stuff not because we’re anti-growth, or that we blame outsiders and use tourism as a distraction so we can continue to ignore our outmoded land use codes,

But because a more sane process for spending the occupancy tax can be a way to really move forward with the county’s comprehensive plan, and the comprehensive plans of our cities and towns, in more just and equitable ways.

This member commentary post does not necessarily reflect the views of Asheville For All or its members.

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