As the weather gets colder, we worry about the tens of thousands of renters and homeowners at risk of losing their homes, especially amidst another winter COVID-19 surge.
At Worcester Interfaith, we build bridges between congregants, community leaders, and elected officials to strengthen equity in the areas of education, employment, public safety, voting, and housing.
Since the pandemic began, we have connected community members to COVID-19 information and provided resources to meet residents’ immediate needs, including leading a door-knocking campaign to help residents apply for rental and mortgage assistance. But the current need for rent and mortgage assistance is more than we can meet.
Since the end of the state’s eviction moratorium in October 2020, over 29,000 new eviction cases have been filed in Housing Court, including over 18,000 evictions for non-payment of rent. In the city of Worcester, 1,513 new evictions have been filed. What’s more, these numbers do not include the many tenants who are evicted for no fault of their own or simply leave out of fear and intimidation.
Most of these evictions are unnecessary given that Massachusetts received over $800 million for rental assistance from the federal government in March 2021, and still has over $2 billion of American Rescue Plan Act funds available for COVID-related emergencies.
It’s not only renters who are at risk. Around 30,000 homeowners in Massachusetts are seriously delinquent on their mortgage payments, and over 200,000 are not confident they can make their next payment. Most forbearance programs that existed have already expired. Many homeowners with private lenders have never had access to relief or forbearance options at all.
These issues are not new. In the 2016-2017 school year, 3,397 students were experiencing homelessness. In 2019, Worcester had the fifth highest proportion of youth homelessness nationwide.
At the end of 2020, at least 1,942 students in Worcester Public Schools were experiencing homelessness, though the total number must be higher given how many students have not been able to reconnect with Worcester Public Schools since the pandemic began.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Since January 2021, lawmakers have been waiting to pass a bill that could support some of our most vulnerable residents. The COVID-19 Housing Equity bill is designed to help protect tenants and homeowners from losing their homes, while ensuring that landlords not only do not have to evict their tenants, but are also made whole.
It would require landlords to pursue rental assistance before an eviction, pause foreclosures and require forbearance according to federal guidelines, and, in doing so, protect vulnerable tenants and homeowners from losing their homes.
Our community needs support, but the COVID-19 Housing Equity bill is currently stalled in the Housing Committee. Our residents cannot afford for lawmakers to wait any longer. This bill will help protect the health and safety of our communities and ensure that more residents can remain stably housed both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Massachusetts lawmakers must take courageous action now to prevent further evictions and foreclosures. We urge the Housing Committee to pass the COVID-19 Housing Equity bill without further delay.
Isabel Gonzalez-Webster, Worcester Interfaith
Matilde Castile, MD, Worcester commissioner of Health and Human Services
Etel Haxhiaj, Worcester city councilor, District 5
Khrystian E. King, Worcester city councilor, at-large
Thu Nguyen, Worcester city councilor, at-large
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: housing crisis not over. Residents need tenant homeowner protections