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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / The Chattanooga City Council holds a voting session Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The city of Chattanooga will put an additional $1.8 million toward paying rent for its residents as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to weigh on local businesses and employees.

The City Council approved a series of resolutions Tuesday, allowing the Office of Economic and Community Development to reroute some existing funds and use funds provided by the federal government to provide rent and utility bills for Chattanoogans impacted by the virus.

When the resolutions passed, Mayor Andy Berke took to Twitter to praise the council and city for creating the housing assistance fund.

"As we gradually work to reopen our city, we're hopeful that employment will begin to recover, but we know we have a long road ahead of us," he wrote. "Our Housing Assistance fund will help as many people as we can, for as long as we can."

The biggest of the three sources is $938,000 designated for the city through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It is earmarked for this and does not affect the city's other funds.

The remaining $850,000 includes $600,000 from the city's Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds and $250,000 from the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

In recent weeks, the funding restrictions have been loosened federally to accommodate more families and individuals as unemployment booms in the wake of the coronavirus, allowing the city to provide some funding to households making as much as 120% of the area's median income, up from the usual 80%, and allowing 100% of a city's HUD funds to be used for personal assistance, such as rent and utility payments, up from the 15% regularly allowed.

Though the existing HUD funds had once been earmarked for creating additional low- to moderate-income housing in the city, Economic and Community Development Director Donna Williams said the personal assistance needs have become so great in recent weeks that her office has had to pivot what it will prioritize in the immediate future.

"While we are steadily, consistently and unwaveringly looking to help folks find new housing and add to the city's housing stock, how silly would it be if we let people who had housing lose it because of the virus?" Williams told the Times Free Press.

Shes said that of the roughly 250 people to apply for city assistance, only around 10 have not qualified under the loosened restrictions.

To seek assistance from the city, visit https://connect.chattanooga.gov/covid/covidresources/covid19rentalassistance/.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @_sarahgtaylor

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