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COVID-19 rent relief phone line open, portal access coming Monday
  • Updated

Tennessee’s COVID-19 rent-relief program is kicking off in earnest as a call center is now open for renters seeking financial aid, while an online portal is set to open Monday, March 1.

The Maryville Housing Authority (MHA) announced on social media this week that the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) has opened a call center for people adversely affected by COVID-19.

“Under guidance from the U.S. Treasury, funds designated as part of the COVID-19 Rent Relief Act of 2020 will support renters who are or have been struggling to pay rent, utilities or other home energy costs due to loss of wages/income as a result of the pandemic,” the announcement stated.

Renters and landlords now can call 844-500-1112 for assistance.

THDA’s website states eligibility will depend upon individuals’ situations.

“Renters who have experienced economic hardship beginning on or after March 13, 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and who meet additional eligibility requirements will qualify for this assistance,” the site states.

According to an automated message, the call center hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

THDA will open its online portal Monday, when people can fill out a relief application.

MHA Director Nancy Burnette told The Daily Times on Friday that the organization is encouraging residents to pursue relief money.

She called THDA to make sure public housing and Section 8 residents would be eligible for relief. THDA said they would be.

“That was exciting and we’re pleased and happy for everybody that needs the help,” Burnette said.

THDA announced in January that Tennessee alone gets $485 million in federal money to provide for rent issues aggravated by the pandemic. Gov. Bill Lee’s office tasked the organization with distribution of the funds, according to a January announcement.

Park highlights 'Smokies Hikes for Healing' program

Great Smoky Mountains National Park released a video Friday that highlights its Smokies Hikes for Healing program, an initiative led by Park Superintendent Cassius Cash in response to the social upheavals of 2020.

The 4-minute video documents a program aimed at providing “a space for people to have open conversations about racism, diversity, and inclusion in a place long recognized for its incredible diversity,” according to the announcement.

“As an African American man and son of a police officer, I found myself overwhelmed with the challenges we faced in 2020 and the endless news cycle that focused on racial unrest,” Cash said in a press release. “My medicine for dealing with this stress was a walk in the woods, and I felt called to share that experience with others. Following a summer hike in the park, I brought together our team to create an opportunity for people to come together for sharing, understanding, and healing.”

That opportunity provided an “ideal backdrop” for conversations among the 60 individuals who participated in the hikes. More than 200 people applied to the program.

Longtime park partner Great Smoky Mountains Association assisted in the creative development of the program and website, according to the announcement, along with financial support from Friends of the Smokies and New Belgium Brewing Company.

The park released a video highlighting the program’s conversation, theme and leadership. It can be found with other information at www.smokieshikesforhealing.org.