With winter approaching, the Portland City Council unanimously approved more than $524,669 in new funding Thursday night to help residents pay their rent and utility bills.

The council also voted to allocate $100,000 to help struggling local businesses, primarily restaurants, buy equipment to help them remain open as the weather grows colder. Councilors also approved $10,000 to cover the costs of administering the programs.

The $634,000 federal Community Development Block Grant funding is part of the money the city received through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES Act, according to City Manager Jon Jennings. The funds must be used to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, and the city must submit a plan for spending the funds to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jennings said.

The funds will be immediately available to residents seeking rental assistance, Jennings said.

Portland received $1.4 million during the first round of CARES funding, part of the $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill Congress passed in March to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Portland’s emergency income payment program began accepting applications for rental assistance on July 6. Initially, the program provided $750 a month in rental assistance and $250 in utility assistance. In August, the rental aid cap increased to $1,000.

“The change significantly increased the number of applications submitted,” city staff wrote in a memo to the City Council. “As of Sept. 30, the program received 547 applications. With the increase in applications seen in September, seasonal employment coming to a close, and the end of the statewide rental assistance program, staff anticipates a need for additional rental assistance in the City of Portland.”

Mary Davis, division director for the city’s Housing and Community Development program, told councilors the city had to stop accepting applications Oct. 1 because it no longer had sufficient funding. Davis said 433 applications have been approved and 88 must still be reviewed and processed.

“We are anticipating the need for even more applications for rental assistance this winter,” Davis said Thursday night during a special virtual council meeting.

Under the new round of funding, applicants can receive up to $1,000 a month for rent and $250 for utilities for up to three months. To be eligible, applicants cannot be receiving any other federal rent aid and their household income must be at or below the county median.

The council also voted Thursday to appropriate $100,000 in CARES Act funds toward the city’s winter business assistance program.

Funding for the Business Assistance Restaurant Sustainability Grant Program can be used to pay for furniture, equipment, heaters, structures and coverings, and blankets used to continue doing business outdoors as long as possible through the fall and winter. Each business or restaurant can apply for up to $10,000. The city is also working with the private sector to secure additional funding to help businesses.

Representatives from the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Portland Downtown both expressed support for the COVID-19 relief programs during the public hearing section of Thursday’s meeting.

Joe Marro, director of advocacy for the chamber, said his organization believes the winter aid package will help some restaurants continue to do business through at least part of the winter.

Anna Ackerman from CEI’s Women’s Business Center said her organization is surveying city businesses and restaurants to gauge their needs and “customers’ appetites” for continuing outdoor dining as the weather grows colder.

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