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Theresa Biggs, housing coordinator at the Chattanooga Housing Authority, helps Aaron McCrary with his paperwork at the agency's offices on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Her role is to help people with housing vouchers navigate the system and connect with affordable housing.

If you go

What: Landlord Tenant Fair

When: 6-8 p.m. today

Where: 811 N. Holtzclaw Ave.

Why: The Chattanooga Housing Authority wants to connect landlords with Housing Choice Voucher Program participants

For information: A listing of available rentals for Housing Choice Voucher participants is available at chahousing.org.

Go to “Programs” at the top of the page. Then select “Housing Choice Voucher Program.” Scroll to “Click HERE for the currently available HCVP/Section 8 Property Listings.”

Thousands of people in Chattanooga desperately need housing. The Chattanooga Housing Authority and the Maclellan Foundation want to help them get it.

Just giving people Housing Choice vouchers doesn't get the job done, officials said. Having the voucher means the federal government will pay a portion of the tenant's rent. But more than half the people with vouchers in 2014 found no landlord willing to sign a lease agreement. And housing authority officials said they didn't have staff to do more than they were doing to assist clients.

Then came the Maclellan Foundation with a $60,000 grant toward funding the position of housing navigator, a person who connects people in the Housing Choice Voucher Program with landlords willing to accept vouchers.

The housing authority named Theresa Biggs to the housing navigator position in September.

Biggs will host a tenant-landlord fair from 6 to 8 p.m. today to help people with vouchers meet with landlords willing to accept them. Voucher holders have 120 days to find housing before their vouchers expire, and they have to reapply to the program to be considered again.

Housing authority executive director Betsy McCright said the housing navigator position has been a critical missing piece on its staff.

"We're hoping to bridge the gap and that everyone with a voucher will find a home," she said.

The housing authority is inviting landlords willing to accept tenants with housing vouchers to attend the fair.

McCright tells landlords that accepting the tenants gives them "recession-proof income." Even if a tenant becomes unemployed, the federal government pays its portion of the rent.

David Denmark, executive director of the Maclellan Foundation, said the Maclellan Family and Foundation's vision is to provide solutions to the problems facing homeless families.

"One of the bottlenecks in moving people from emergency shelter to transitional shelter to permanent shelter is simply one of navigation," he wrote in a statement Wednesday.

"How does an agency or individual navigate the many options and requirements involved with serving a transient population? The answer, at least, is for someone to be functionally dedicated to be thinking about the issues," he wrote.

Biggs has established relationships with some apartment complexes to get application fees waived for some voucher holders, negotiated rent on behalf of some so it is more affordable and posted a listing of homes available to Housing Choice voucher holders on CHA's website.

A tenant could seek out his own apartment and do his own negotiating, but the request may carry more weight if it comes from a housing navigator, Biggs said.

The housing authority doesn't get all of the funding available for its voucher program unless it leases all 3,500 vouchers that the federal government issued. So far, the authority is about 120 lease agreements away from being fully leased.

In 2014 the agency said that it loses $55 a month for every voucher not used by the end of the year. So this year the agency could lose about $6,600 a month if lease agreements are not signed.

Some 3,710 people applied for housing when the housing authority opened its waiting list Monday.

The housing authority used Random.org on Wednesday to randomly select 1,000 applicants for its Housing Choice voucher waiting list.

Nearly 3,000 more people applied for the program in January than applied on Monday. Officials said they have no idea why fewer people applied this month. The agency advertised more on radio stations and television this month than it did in January, McCright said.

Biggs went into action this month when a 42-year-old homeless man, Aaron McCrary, sought housing but couldn't find any he could afford.

McCrary had a voucher for $429 a month, but had a hard time finding a landlord willing to accept it. The apartment he wanted was $485.

Biggs called the housing managers hoping to renegotiate the price, but said she couldn't lower it. Then she tried contacting family members McCrary said might assist him.

One agreed. Biggs worked for nearly an hour making calls to finally get McCrary into an apartment after he had been homeless for two years.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

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