September 20, 2019

In a first for the region’s fight against homelessness, leaders from Multnomah County, Portland and Metro have agreed to spend millions of dollars in tourism taxes on the wraparound support services that some formerly homeless neighbors need to stay in housing.

The Board of Commissioners backed the plan Thursday, Sept. 19 — voting 4-0 to amend the three governments’ 18-year-old agreement on how to best spend tax revenue raised from hotels and rental cars. Commissioner Lori Stegmann was absent.

The proposed amendments must now be formally ratified by the Portland City Council and the Metro Council.

County Attorney Will Glasson, left, and Chief Financial Officer Eric Arellano brief the Board on the tourism taxes agreement Sept. 19, 2019.
Once approved, the new agreement will send as much as $5.2 million a year to Portland and Multnomah County’s Joint Office of Homeless Services. The Joint Office, in turn, must spend that money on support services — including substance use treatment, mental health treatment and workforce training.

Those services will be paired with hundreds of affordable apartments in a best-practices services model called supportive housing. Supportive housing is the most cost-effective and trauma-informed strategy for helping people who struggle with disability and long-term homelessness leave the streets for good.

Chair Deborah Kafoury first championed using tourism taxes for supportive services in 2018. She said that investment, along with other funding set aside for traditional tourism-related uses, will help everyone in the community. 

“We’ve been lucky in our community to have a growing tourism industry. A lot of people are coming here because of our great amenities,” she said. “Being able to deploy these funds to further increase the number of tourists who come to our community is what we’re ultimately likely to see.” 

Support services funded through this agreement will be tied to hundreds of affordable units created through Portland’s 2016 housing bond. 

City officials, joined by Chair Kafoury, announced nine new bond-funded projects on Tuesday, Sept. 17. Those projects mean there are now 1,424 bond-funded apartments either already in use or under development — better than the 1,300 units promised during the campaign three years ago.

And those newly funded supportive units will help Portland and Multnomah County achieve a separate goal for addressing chronic unsheltered homelessness. The County and Portland are now almost halfway to their goal of creating 2,000 supportive housing units by 2028.

Tourism taxes have long been set aside for operations, renovations or both at major community facilities. The new version of the agreement includes funding for Providence Park, Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Oregon Convention Center and the Portland'5 Centers for the Arts. 

The County has received $750,000 a year from tourism-related since 2013 for a more limited set of homelessness and mental health services. Chair Kafoury’s office initiated conversations about growing that amount, and targeting supportive housing, in 2018.

Metro, Portland and the County all agreed to the idea in principle months ago. The most recent version of the agreement, now up for ratification, ensures the new funding won’t be sacrificed for other projects if there’s a recession. 

“It is such a logical use of this funding, since it does affect the travel and tourism industry as well,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “We can’t wait to deploy these funds.”