PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — The Multnomah County Commission voted four to one to pursue selling the unopened Wapato Jail in North Portland to a private developer for $10.8 million on Thursday.
Commissioner Loretta Smith cast the lone no vote after strenuously arguing that county should instead work to open the facility as a homeless shelter and treatment center. She said it was could house over 500 people currently living on the streets, a problem that is growing more severe with winter approaching.
“We haven’t really tried to see if we can make that happen,” said Smith.
But the rest of the commission said there were too many unresolved issues about using the jail to provide homeless services. They include it being zoned by Portland for industrial use, its long distance from exiting homeless service providers, and the current lack of public transit connections to it.
“We’re looking at a long legal battle” to resolve all these issues,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann said.
The commission then voted unanimously to spend the money from the sale for yet-to-be-identified homeless and affordable housing services.
Public testimony was split on the sale, with several homeless advocates arguing the jail could quickly be opened for relatively little money to provide shelter and help to around 30 percent of the estimated 1,600 people currently living on the streets. They included Pastor Michelle McLaughlin, executive director of Love Inc., a Hillboro church.
But Ernesto Fonseca, CEO of the Hacienda Community Development Corporation, said the jail was unsuitable for serving the homeless and the money could be better spent by existing housing and social service providers.
The 155,400-square-foot jail sits on 18.24 acres of industrial land in the Rivergate Industrial Park. It cost $58 million to build. An analysis by the Portland Tribune shows the total cost to date is more than $90 million, including interest and maintenance payments, and could exceed $105 million by the time all the bonds are finally paid off in 2030.
The $10.8 million offer was submitted by Kehoe Properties Northwest. Although the sales agreement the county will now pursue does not say how the company intends to use the jail, the Oregonian has reported it will be a medical-related distribution center.
Once the sales agreement has been completed, Kehoe will have two days to deposit $200,000 in a refundable escrow account during a 60-day due diligence period. An additional $300,000 will be deposited when that period expires if both parties agree the sale should proceed.
The Portland Tribune is a KOIN media partner.