Welcome to Hochatown, the Town Created by Airbnb

The tiny town of Hochatown, on the shores of Broken Bow Lake in the southeast corner of Oklahoma, was created exactly one year ago. And it’s almost entirely thanks to Airbnb.

“Airbnb built this town 100 percent,” said Dian Jordan, the mayor of Hochatown. Last November, Ms. Jordan and 128 fellow residents successfully fought to incorporate a narrow 11-square-mile strip of bumpy dirt roads, modest log cabins and enormous modern mansions that sits within the territory of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

During the week, Hochatown has a population of just 219 people, but on weekends, as many as 50,000 visitors, mostly from Dallas, a three-hour drive away, flock there to kayak, fly-fish and hike among the waterfalls, rapids and thick forests of pine and pawpaw trees.

Before the pandemic, Hochatown had roughly 400 cabins for rent. There are now more than 2,400 — a staggering 413 percent increase in five years, according to AirDNA, a short-term rental business site that tracks Airbnb data. In September, the town collected its first month’s sales tax, totaling $456,000, and hopes to eventually reap as much as $1 million in tax revenue a month.

Perhaps no place has been transformed more than Hochatown. U.S. Highway 259, a two-lane road, is the only way into and out of town. On weekends it is a traffic jam of long-haul trucks, tribal buses and tourist vehicles, including streams of R.Vs. Hochatown does not have a single police officer or professional firefighter. There is no sewerage system, no garbage collection, not even sufficient water to handle the proliferation of people and new homes.

As its popularity grew, Hochatown’s push to become an official town accelerated. Because it was unincorporated area, decisions about its resources for services and utilities were made by the McCurtain County. For instance, as Airbnbs spread, and one-room cabins transformed into $1 million rental homes, Hochatown’s roads remained unpaved and riddled with potholes, many impassable without four-wheel drive; homeowners often paid to pave their own roads.

Water was another pressing problem. Most Airbnbs in the area boast hot tubs, which use an inordinate amount of water. “If you don’t have a hot tub, you can’t rent,” said Leo Winegar, a cabin owner in Hochatown. “But if a pipe breaks, because of the lack of redundancy and infrastructure, half the town has no water for days.”

With Hochatown’s hefty tax revenues on the line, opponents of its incorporation quickly emerged. The city of Broken Bow, which lies nine miles to the south, annexed part of the town for itself. Hochatown sued and won back control over the area, but the relationship between neighbors remains frosty.

One story, of a part-time transplant from Dallas, shows just how crazy. In 2018, Kelli Haus was a single mother with two young sons. She emptied her bank account and used her life savings to purchase a rental cabin in Hochatown. She quickly sold it for double what she’d paid and reinvested her profits, snatching up more properties. Eventually, Ms. Haus became a real estate agent.

At the market’s height, Ms. Haus’s signs were plastered all over town, and for some, she came to personify the changes afoot. Her signs were defaced with mustaches and devil horns; bullet holes were drawn on her forehead.

But Ms. Haus wasn’t cowed. Instead, she enlarged one of the defaced signs and stuck it on a billboard heading into town. “When people saw it, my phone blew up with supporters,” she said. “The whole thing backfired.”

Harassment like that faced by Ms. Haus, as well as noise complaints, damaged property and theft have become relatively common in Hochatown. Yet with no police force, residents rely on the highway patrol, park rangers and the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Department, which was in the news earlier this year when its sheriff was caught on audio tape discussing killing journalists and Black people.

The town does have a former deputy who founded his own security company. Jason Ricketts, whose body builder physique belies a soft heart, quells noisy parties and other disturbances and is “our own Barney Fife,” said Ms. Jordan, referring to the fictional deputy on “The Andy Griffith Show.”

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