New hotel heralds change in Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown

A resident of Portland’s Old Town neighborhood walks his dog past a

homeless encampment

beside Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park.

Money from Portland’s booming tourism industry will soon be used to aid the region’s worsening homeless crisis.

For over a year, regional leaders have been hammering out an agreement to take some of the money flowing in from local taxes on rental cars and hotels and redirect it toward homeless services.

The final puzzle piece fell into place Thursday with the Multnomah County Commission unanimously voting to approve the novel use of tourist’s dollars.

Portland’s commissioners had done so last week, and Metro the week before.

It’s an unorthodox use of a 2.5% tax on rooms and car rentals that had long been used by the three governments to improve the facilities where tourists might find themselves.

The money, paid by visitors to Multnomah County, has previously gone toward expanding Providence Park, renovating the Oregon Convention Center and building a hotel there.

But the tax base has grown with Portland’s popularity, prompting local leaders to look for new uses.

This may be ringing bells for some. The three governments were poised to push through a similar agreement almost exactly a year ago.

But Multnomah County had sent stakeholders back to the drawing table.

“My main concern a year ago was the funding wasn’t certain — and it’s really important that if we’re going to use these dollars to fund supportive housing services that those are consistent,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said.

“Because once we put someone into a unit and start to give them the services they need, we can’t have that money suddenly disappear.”

Kafoury said the version approved Thursday offered enough assurances that the money wouldn’t disappear should Portland tourism falter.

Under the new agreement, the county’s Joint Office of Homeless Services will receive $2.5 million during the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which will be used to create support services for people living in affordable housing built through housing bonds passed by Portland and Metro voters.

By 2023, that funding would increase to $5.25 million annually.

Kafoury said the government decided on wraparound services because it’s the best way to tackle the area’s growing problem of chronic homelessness.

“Just providing people with a home is not enough,” she said.

“Homeless people need services — whether its mental health services, drug and alcohol counseling — to stay stable and stay in the housing.”

In addition to creating wraparound services, the agreement also authorizes two $40 million bonds, one for improvements at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and another for the Portland’5 art facilities.

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