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Chattanooga will use $30 million in federal funding received through the American Rescue Plan Act to support local initiatives involved in preventing homelessness, creating affordable housing, public safety and more.

Mayor Tim Kelly announced those priorities earlier this month, and the overall funding plan received approval from the City Council on Tuesday.

It's a list that Kelly's administration said resulted from months of planning and community input. The council received an overview of the requests from Kelly's chief of staff, Joda Thongnopnua, over the course of two meetings over the past two weeks, which together spanned about five hours.

Thongnopnua told council members during a presentation on July 19 that the Kelly administration wanted to make sure the money was spent with a focus on equity and assisting historically disadvantaged communities, which Thongnopnua said reflected priorities in the mayor's One Chattanooga plan and guidelines outlined by the federal government.

"I think this is a really exciting opportunity to invest in the kinds of organizations that have been doing the work often for decades — to really supercharge them and close those economic gaps that have been a challenge in Chattanooga for a really long time," Thongnopnua told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Tuesday. "The pandemic did not create those gaps, but really made them wider."

In partnership with the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the Urban League, Kelly appointed 12 people to a panel called the Chattanooga Equitable Recovery Commission, which held its first meeting in January. Members did not review individual projects, but Thongnopnua said they helped hone the focus of the allocation plan and recommended amounts to invest in certain categories.

Overall, the city is providing $5.8 million to help fund the creation of roughly 230 new affordable rental units and $5.9 million to advance various workforce development initiatives, including $2.9 million for a partnership with Hamilton County Schools.

The spending plan also sets aside $2.9 million to expand access to entrepreneurship opportunities. Of that, $1.4 million will support development of a city-led minority business resource center.

Public safety is another key piece of the funding pie, encapsulating $3.7 million going to nine local initiatives. According to a news release from the city, Community Haven will receive $1 million to design an "evidence-based violence interruption initiative" in coordination with the city, an effort designed to reach people at high risk of involvement in gun violence.

Additionally, $1.2 million will go towards improving access to mental health care and $3.6 million to expand early learning opportunities for students. That includes $2 million for the Chattanooga Housing Authority, which will also receive another $1 million from the city's affordable housing fund, to renovate the historic James A. Henry School into a neighborhood hub. The project will create 40 additional early learning seats for young children.

Lastly, the city is allocating $5.3 million for homeless prevention and recovery programs, including $2.8 million for the creation of a low barrier shelter that local advocates say would fill a profound gap in services.

Officials said the city received more than 200 applications totaling $200 million worth of funding requests, and the municipality was able to fund roughly a third of those applications by trimming and consolidating some of them.

Thongnopnua said organizations listed their expected outcomes during the application process, and the mayor's team is working with those groups to help refine them.

The $30 million allocated Tuesday comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, passed in March 2021 by Democrats in Congress to stimulate the economy and provide COVID-19 relief.

The funds allocated represent the bulk of the $38.6 million the city has received through the act. Much of the remaining funds have gone towards emergency services associated with the city's response to the pandemic, Thongnopnua said. That included a food bank, covering some COVID-19 claims for city employees, vaccine incentives for residents and an eviction prevention program.

"Mayor Kelly has done exactly what he said he was going to do during the campaign," Thongnopnua said. "He invested in minority-led organizations, he specifically focused on equity and closing economic gaps that have been a long-standing issue in our community, and we are focusing on innovative new ideas and taking some really calculated bets that could really pay off for our residents."

Visit recovery.chattanooga.gov for a full breakdown of the funding.

Contact David Floyd at dfloyd@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @flavid_doyd.

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