Housing homeless people in motels is a smart solution. It is also expensive.


For nearly a month, Portland and Multnomah county officials bitterly argued over how to spend $ 52 million of the taxpayer money voters approved last year on housing services.

In short, the argument boils down to whether more of the money should go to alternative shelters or to county-funded monthly rent for apartments.

Motels offer a happy medium between the two: they offer the flexibility and group setting of shelters, with the privacy afforded by individual units with doors.

There’s just one problem: nightly motel rentals are expensive.

In addition to paying $ 64 per room per night at six different motels, Multnomah County has to pay nonprofit partners to manage and staff them. (He owns a seventh motel.) The total bill for his seven motel shelters: $ 1.4 million per month.

Take the Chestnut Tree Inn, for example, where 58 women stay each night. The county pays $ 111,000 a month just for rooms, not including staff and food costs.

It would cost the county $ 23,000 to fund one person’s stay at the Chestnut Tree Inn for one year.

On the other hand, it costs $ 12,000 per year to house someone in a collective shelter.

“It’s about $ 2.4 million a year [for each motel]. They are quite expensive, ”explains Denis Thériault, spokesperson for the Joint Office for Homeless Services. “To operate a collective shelter, it costs between 1 and 2 million dollars per year. The motels are a bit more expensive.

It is even more expensive to send homeless people to motels, like the Ramada Inn featured in this story, which are not rented in blocks but room by room, as needed. “It’s an expensive resource to use, especially without having rooms or bulk contracts,” says Katherine Moore, director of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, which normally places three to five people in rooms each week for short stays.

Cover story: A week in three motels on the edge of roaming.

There is, however, a cheaper way to turn a motel into a homeless shelter: buy it.

Multnomah County has done this once in the past year, buying the Days Inn on 82nd Avenue NE for $ 4.2 million using federal money from the CARES Act. This begs the question: why didn’t county officials try to buy the seven motels when their fortunes were at an all-time low?

County President Deborah Kafoury says yes. “In fact, we looked to negotiate purchase options on all of the motels we rented last year,” she says, “but not all owners were interested at the time. “

Buying real estate is also complicated, says Kafoury, and the county quickly needed rooms for the homeless.

“It was an emergency and we didn’t have the luxury of spending months doing due diligence and buying properties. People needed security then, not three or four months later, ”she said. WW. “Not all motels are necessarily a good investment to buy, and we knew our funds for the purchase were limited. We continue to review potential motel purchases, both those we currently use as shelter and others.

The county aims to buy two more motels by the end of the year. Rental documents provided by the joint office show that the county motel leases were due to expire in May, but the county decided to extend them until December 31.

This means that four motels will resume welcoming paying guests in 2022. Current tenants will be relocated to group shelters if they are not placed in permanent accommodation by then.

And when is it? “At some point, after the pandemic,” says Thériault. “We don’t know when it will be, but it’s not imminent.”


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