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Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger is encouraging people living in the county who lost income because of the COVID-19 pandemic to apply for rent or utility relief through the Tennessee Housing Development Agency.

Applications for the relief program open March 1 and people who faced economic hardship on or after March 13, 2020, are eligible as long as they make 80% or less than the median income of the county. In Hamilton County, the 80% threshold for a single-person household is $40,700 a year. For a four-person household, the threshold is $58,100.

The program can help cover past-due gas, sewer, electricity, water and rent bills. People who receive other government support can be eligible for the relief. The program is designed to prevent eviction or loss of utilities, according to the state's website.

"We have a lot of people in our community that's been hit hard with this [coronavirus], maybe even lost their jobs or whatever and aren't able to pay rent," Coppinger said Thursday during a weekly livestream. "And this is a program that's available through our state government."

Last week, 2,216 people in Hamilton County were receiving unemployment insurance, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development. The economic recovery continues after a difficult 2020. In April, one in nine workers in Southeast Tennessee filed for unemployment.

How to get rent or utility relief through the Tennessee Housing Development Agency

Applications for rent relief open March 1. People can apply by calling 844-500-1112 during normal business hours or by visiting thda.org/help-for-renters-section-8/covidrentrelief.

To qualify, a household must make below 80% of the median household income in the county. A list of this threshold for each household size is available online.

Renters will need to submit a valid form of identification, rent or lease agreement, proof of income, as well as specific documentation to prove hardship, in order to apply. People can go online to apply or call 844-500-1112 once applications open March 1.

The federal government has issued a pause on evictions until at least March 31 due to the pandemic. However, to be protected by the moratorium, renters must have already tried to obtain other government assistance, be unable to pay rent because of lost income or medical bills and face homelessness if evicted, among other requirements, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Data tracked by the Eviction Lab at Princeton University, which measures evictions across the nation, has shown evictions are still occurring based on local interpretations of the CDC order. These ongoing evictions are disproportionately affecting women and people of color, according to the lab.

Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.

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