Portland-Area Governments Inking Deal to Funnel Tourist Dollars to People on the Edge of Homelessness

But striking a deal between governments wasn’t easy.

Ankeny Alley. (Wesley LaPointe)

Local officials have finalized an innovative deal to direct Portland tourist dollars to assist people without stable housing.

The deal, championed by Multnomah County Chairwoman Deborah Kafoury and Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, will take visitor dollars—collected through lodging taxes and rental-car taxes—and send some of them to providing housing and services to people on the verge of homelessness. That's a new use for money that had previously been dedicated to visitor facilities like the Oregon Convention Center and Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

"I've made it clear that we must not only continue, but also intensify our efforts to address the homelessness crisis we're facing with a great sense of urgency," said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler in a Nov. 19 statement. "The allocation of new resources raised from tourism in our region will help us do just that."

But striking a deal wasn't easy.

When the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners votes next week to ink the deal, it will be nearly a year since WW first reported on the idea. Much of the delay—and the bickering that surrounded it—could be traced to disagreements about how much money should be allocated to housing in the event of an economic downturn (and how that would be decided). Three local governments had to sign off on the agreement, but struggled to reach terms.

The deal announced last week, first reported by the Portland Tribune, maintains funding for the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Portland'5 concert venues. It dedicates $2.5 million to "livability and safety and supportive services for people experiencing homelessness, or at risk of experiencing homelessness."

The agreement comes as Portland is enjoying record spending by tourists: more than $5.3 billion last year. It also comes amidst whispers in political circles of a potential tax measure to fund social services that keep vulnerable people housed.

"We know the federal government isn't going to swoop in and give us the funding we need," said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury in a statement. "So we have to think creatively and identify new revenues across the region, just like this one."

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