Wapato Jail has been sold to Kehoe Northwest Properties for $5 million following a contentious 3-1 vote at Multnomah County Commission. Commissioner Loretta Smith, who advocated that the jail be turned into a homeless shelter, argued passionately that the sale be turned down after Kehoe changed its offer from $10.8 million to $5 million.
“The taxpayers deserve a little bit better from us,” Smith said at the contentious Friday meeting, citing an offer emailed to the county commission by local Homer Williams to buy the property for $7 million and turn it into a homeless shelter as a viable alternative.
Smith had previously advocated for the county running the jail as a shelter itself, something Commissioner Sharon Meieran says would wipe out the rest of the county's budget for homeless shelters, thus closing every other shelter run by the county. “It would take $5 to $10 million per year to operate this facility," she said.
Meieran asked Smith if she had met with TriMet and other service providers to figure out the costs associated with running such a shelter. Smith replied that she had outlined her proposal in an Oregonian op-ed. Meieran repeated her question—a move that Smith called a "micro-aggression" and refused to answer further. Homeless Portlanders and advocates that we spoke to last week have told us the plan doesn't reflect their needs.
Developer Homer Williams gave public testimony reiterating his offer of $7 million with a promise to run the location as a homeless shelter. “If we were to move ahead with Wapato, our intention is that the primary funding for it would not come from the county,” he said.
Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson reiterated that the initial construction of the jail was a mistake, and that the facility is not well suited to other uses because of its construction and the fact that it's zoned for industrial uses. “It’s plain and simple," she said. "The building is a jail, and there’s not much you can do to change that.”
The money from the sale will be spent on affordable housing, in accordance with a November vote earlier in the sale proceedings. The county requires a $250,000 deposit on the sale, refundable unless the sale does not proceed.
The sale will be finalized on April 20.