Multnomah County sells Wapato Jail, proceeds go to permanent housing

April 19, 2018

Portland - Multnomah County announced today it has sold the Wapato Jail to N Bybee Lake Court, LLC, a project-specific entity owned and managed by Kehoe Northwest Properties, LLC. The sale has been finalized, recorded and $5 million transferred to the County earmarked for housing.

“The long saga of Wapato is over,’’ said Chair Deborah Kafoury. “We didn’t need it as a jail. We couldn’t afford to convert it. We couldn’t reach back into the past and recapture the money spent. But we could work with professional real estate managers to sell Wapato and get that property back on the tax rolls to bring vital revenue to serve those in our community who need us most. Today, I am relieved to say we have done that.’’

Wapato was difficult from Day One. Voters approved a bond measure to build a jail in 1996 during an uptick in drug arrests. Yet, at the very same time, voters approved a measure to cap property taxes, thereby eliminating the County’s ability to raise money to run the jail. Then, crime rates started to fall.

Nevertheless, Sheriff Dan Noelle persisted. The then-Sheriff Noelle wanted a 90-acre detention campus and argued the County would need 4,000 jail beds by the year 2000. After 100 public meetings, the County settled on a smaller jail (525-beds) and smaller plot (18 acres) on heavy industrial land in Rivergate owned by the Port of Portland. The Port agreed to the sale only so long as no prisoners would be released from the site and that people transported to and from the jail were already in custody.

But by the time construction was completed in July 2004, the county had no need for the jail beds nor money to operate the facility. Within a year, the then-Board of County Commissioners voted to find another use.

No county, state or federal agency ever wanted Wapato. Despite repeated attempts to find another use for the jail, it sat unused except for some film productions. No viable tenant or buyer ever emerged.

After Portland declared a housing emergency in 2016, Chair Kafoury directed County legal and facilities staff to see if Wapato could be used as a homeless shelter.

The answer: “No.”

Wapato did not meet the Joint Office of Homeless Services program criteria for potential shelters including whether the population would come given the location, and whether there was access to community services.

State, city, Metro and Port of Portland land use restrictions prohibit or substantially restrict residential use at the site, including a mass shelter.

A temporary shelter at Wapato is cost prohibitive. The estimated cost of opening Wapato as a temporary 525-person shelter would exceed $8 million per year for capital and operating costs combined, not including the cost of support services. To open Wapato as a permanent shelter, the county would have to close its five major shelters or draw money from programs that move people into permanent housing.

Homeless service providers and people who have experienced homelessness objected, telling the Board of County Commissioners that a mass shelter at Wapato is too far from jobs, schools and social services.

In January 2017, the Board voted to hire the real estate firm CBRE, which marketed the property to more than 8,000 commercial contacts. On Nov. 9, 2017, after a competitive process and evaluation of offers with CBRE, the County Board approved a purchase and sale agreement with Kehoe Northwest Properties, LLC. The Board also voted to dedicate the proceeds to comprehensive housing strategies.

After conducting due diligence, the firm returned to the County with a counter offer on March 23.  On April 12, the Board voted 4-1 to approve an amended sales agreement. Shortly after 11 a.m. today, the net proceeds from the $5 million sale were transferred to the County.

Based on last fall’s resolution sponsored by Commissioner Lori Stegmann and Chair Kafoury on where to dedicate the proceeds, Commissioner Stegmann has convened a workgroup of staff from the offices of the Chair, Commissioners Sharon Meieran, Loretta Smith, Jessica Vega Pederson, as well as the Joint Office of Homeless Services, Department of County Human Services and homeless services providers to identify those long-term strategies. The goal is to use the sale of Wapato to increase housing stability in Multnomah County.