Multnomah County Votes to Sell Never-Used Wapato Jail for $5 Million on April 20

The jail was never used after being built. It has been repeatedly floated as a site for a homeless shelter.

The Multnomah County Commission voted four to one to accept a $5 million purchase price on the never-used Wapato Jail.

That's less than half the $10.8 million price originally offered last fall by developer Marty Kehoe.

In the intervening month, after examining the property, Kehoe reduced his offer price. The new deal is scheduled to close next week.

County Commissioner Loretta Smith, who is running for City Council, was the lone vote in opposition. She has championed the idea of using the jail as a homeless shelter.

"Our community is facing a housing crisis like we have never seen before," she said at the board meeting today. "How many more of most vulnerable neighbors must die on the streets before we take bold action?"

Before voting for the sale, Sharon Meieran summed up the lackluster record of the county's history with Wapato, which was never used.

"No part of Wapato's history has been a victory in wise planning, but it is where we are today," she said.

A last-minute offer from Homer Williams’ group Oregon Harbor of Hope to buy the shelter for $7 million cash was not formally considered at the meeting, though the county attorney’s office prepared an analysis of that offer that argued the proposal was dependent on zoning changes.

Chair Deborah Kafoury, who has repeatedly reviewed and rejected the idea of using the jail as a shelter, again cited the need for homeless shelters to be close to jobs, services and children's schools—as well as the limitations of zoning at the site.

"Wapato was built at a time when our community was sad and angry and thought best answer to the drug addiction crisis was a massive jail," she said. "But locking people up turned out to be one of the most expensive and least effective things we as a state and a nation have ever done.

"Wapato has given me a great sense of humility about how this board's decisions will affect the future. But it has only deepened my resolve to learn from the past, to make the public policy decisions today that dispel the myth of Wapato and return that value to the taxpayer," Kafoury added.

The shelter idea has also become a point of contention in the race for City Council, in which Smith is a candidate.

Related: Make Wapato Jail a Homeless Shelter? Once Again, It's a Divisive Question in a Portland Election

One opponent, former state Rep. Jo Ann Hardesty, recently called people wanting to turn Wapato into homeless shelter "idiots."