Last May I wrote about Frank Vasello, owner of the Provincetown deli and bakery Relish, who said he was so worried about finding employees in the housing crisis that he reduced his menu and contemplated closing one a day a week even during the high season.
That would give members of his small crew a day off. But it would also mean thousands of people in town during the summer would see the “closed” sign that day and walk on without spending a dime.
Businesses having to curtail hours because of staff shortages is an increasingly costly problem. Lack of housing has become the number-one issue for tourism-dependent businesses on the Outer Cape. And that’s a lot of businesses.
For months now, housing advocates and select boards have been talking about how to divvy up the bonanza of new tax revenues coming in from short-term rentals. The 2019 expansion of the hotel rooms tax to include short-term rentals has more than doubled Provincetown’s rooms tax revenue. The year before the tax was expanded, the town banked $2.2 million. This year, it will be $4.7 million.
A longstanding formula for allocating the rooms tax revenues gave 35 percent to the tourism dept. to “market, beautify and enhance tourism.”
This year, Article 16 on Provincetown’s April 5 town meeting draft warrant asks voters to reduce the tourism dept. allotment to 24 percent. The article, recommended by the select board, the community housing council, and the Provincetown Year-Round Market-Rate Rental Housing Trust, would reduce the percentages of rooms tax revenue going to the usual recipients. The wastewater fund would get 10 percent instead of 13 percent. The stabilization fund would receive 18 percent rather than 25 percent. The town’s general fund would get 18 percent instead of 27 percent.
This reshuffling would allow 30 percent of the revenue to go to an affordable or community housing trust fund.
Because there is so much more revenue now, there would be no reduction in actual dollars. The tourism fund would get $1.13 million under the new 24-percent formula, well over the proposed department budget of $960,000 for fiscal 2023.
The use of tourism-derived funds for housing is an important shift in our understanding of what the industry truly needs. Last week, Paul Benson reported, Town Manager Alex Morse told the select board that the business community has not exactly been bombarding the town with solutions to the staff housing problem.
Solutions aren’t easy to come by, and the business community can’t levy taxes. It is likely that town government will have to lead.
“Closed on Wednesday” can mean many things. Right now, it means there are not enough people to provide for the tourists we attract.
We do need to invest in the marketing of Provincetown as a destination — tourism is our bread and butter. But a sustainable labor force is the water we can’t live without.