Board of County Commissioners authorize tourism dollars for housing and homeless programs

December 6, 2019

The Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, Dec. 5 approved a resolution which will use a portion of the region’s tourism revenue to support programs and affordable housing for low-income residents.

The vote amends an existing intergovernmental agreement among Metro, City of Portland and Multnomah County to develop the tourism industry in the Portland area. The Metro Council voted in favor of the modifications on Nov. 21, and the Portland City Council on Nov. 27. The funds will help the Joint Office of Homeless Services turn almost 300 affordable apartments into supportive housing. 

Commissioners celebrated the three-way agreement during a time in which local tourism is flourishing and vulnerable residents are under pressure. According to the Poverty in Multnomah County report, released earlier in the week, one third of Multnomah County residents are unable to meet their basic needs.  

(Left to right): William Glasson, Senior County Attorney, and Eric Arellano, Chief Financial Officer, were instrumental in the authorization of the intergovernmental agreement.

For almost two decades a 2.5 percent tax on rental cars and hotel rooms have helped fund expansions to the Oregon Convention Center, a Convention Center hotel, and Travel Portland marketing initiatives. With revenue at $21 million a year, the three governmental bodies have agreed to expand the use of those funds to broaden the County's safety net. 

“In the end we’re going to have additional dollars to help the people who need it most in our community,” Chair Deborah Kafoury, a longtime champion of the new use of revenue, said. “While it is cause for celebration it is just one more funding stream for an issue that really demands even more dollars than this. We’ll continue to fight to find additional dollars to get people into housing and off the street.” 

Under the current agreement, Multnomah County will receive revenue for safety net services in the following amounts: $2.5 million in FY 2019-20 and 2021-21; $3.25 million in FY 2021-22; $3.77 million in FY 2022-23; and $5,250,000 for FY 2023-24 and beyond. By 2029-2030, the figure could be as high as $50.1 million.

The new funds, along with funds from the Health Department, will put affordable housing units in 12 buildings funded by the Portland housing bond. They include the Westwind Hotel, which the County helped the City purchase through $4 million from the sale of Wapato jail. They'll also go towards programs that serve people at risk of becoming homeless. 

Also included in the deal is the authorization of $80 million in new bonds to improve the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts. Those bonds are expected to be issued after Jan. 1, 2021 for the Coliseum and Jan. 1, 2024 for the Portland’5 Centers for the Arts. 

“This is monumental,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said. “Looking for funding for homeless services is so challenging. We have a lot of challenges but we need to reflect on some of our successes, and this is one of them.”