Portland's Tourist Tax To Fund Homeless Programs

The Portland City Council voted 3-0 Wednesday to support changes to the region’s tourist tax structure, allowing the region’s visitors fund to support housing for vulnerable Oregonians. The Metro Council voted unanimously last week to support the changes. The changes now face final approval by the Multnomah County Commission, which is scheduled to vote next week.

The visitors fund, mostly supported through a 13.3% room tax and a 17% rental car tax, has historically funded renovations and expansions at facilities like Portland’5 Centers for the Arts, the Oregon Convention Center and redevelopment of Portland-area stadiums such as what is now Providence Park. The visitors fund also supports campaigns promoting Portland as a visitor destination, and operations at tourist venues like the Oregon Convention Center.

Tourist tax revenue has more than doubled this decade, creating opportunities to use tourist-generated resources to support wrap-around services for people living in new affordable housing being built through City of Portland and Metro housing bonds.

“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,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. “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.”

Under the agreement, $2.5 million a year will be devoted to livability and safety and supportive services for people experiencing homelessness, or at risk of experiencing homelessness. That number will grow with over time.

“We know the solution to our housing crisis is to build more housing,” said Metro Council President Lynn Peterson. “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.”

"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,'' said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury. “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’5 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.”

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