Tourism taxes could fund homeless services

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Multnomah County Commission scheduled to consider change already approved by Portland and Metro on Thursday

A plan to increase funding for homeless services is nearing completion. (Pamplin Media Group File Photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Using tourism-generated tax dollars to reduce homelessness will be considered by the Multnomah County Commission on Thursday, Dec. 5.

The proposal to dedicate a share of the hotel, motel and motor vehicle rental taxes to social services has already been approved by the Portland City Council and Metro Council. The dedicated funds will pay for service providers to help very low income residents with mental health and other issues stay in housing to be built by Portland and Metro affordable housing bonds.

If approved, the change will initially allocate $2.5 million a year to livability and safety and supportive services for people experiencing homelessness, or at risk of experiencing homelessness. That number will grow over time.

“This funding will pay for livability and supportive services, and related operations costs, supporting programs and projects funded by the proceeds of the City and Metro bonds approved by voters in 2016 and 2018, respectively, to create affordable homes for low-income individuals,” reads an analysis of the measure to be considered by the county.

Uses of the taxes are determined by the city, county and Metro. 

When the City Council approved the change last week, Mayor Ted Wheeler said, “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. The allocation of new resources raised from tourism in our region will help us do just that. This additional revenue stream will strengthen our ability to ensure that everyone has access to an affordable, safe place they deserve and can call home, and to the services they need to stay in their homes.”

After the Metro Council approved the change, Metro President Lynn Peterson said, “We know the solution to our housing crisis is to build more housing. We also know that some people need wrap-around services to help them stay in housing and break the cycles of homelessness and housing insecurity.”

Anticipating approval of the change, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said, “People living outside are getting older and struggling with disabilities and chronic health conditions. They don’t have the luxury of waiting and neither should we. We know the federal government isn’t going to swoop in and give us the funding we need. So we have to think creatively and identify new revenues across the region, just like this one.”

The new agreement will also fund renovations to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum and Portland’s Centers for the Arts.

“Tourists spent $5.3 billion in greater Portland in 2018,” said Scott Cruickshank, general manager of Metro’s Visitor Venues. “Tourism is a huge part of our economy, and we need to make sure we continue to draw visitors from around the world to our great city.”

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner

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