As we enter a new year amid a new COVID surge, tens of thousands of renters and homeowners are at risk of losing their homes — an unacceptable trauma for our families and communities. As a nonprofit community development corporation, Lawrence CommunityWorks (LCW), develops affordable housing and helps local families build the assets and skills they need to thrive. Since the pandemic began, LCW has been working hand-in-hand with many strong, effective nonprofit partners in the city to respond to the community needs worsened by the pandemic. Chief among these has been the huge surge in housing instability, as people have gotten sick, lost jobs, closed businesses, and been unable to pay their rent or mortgage.

Since the end of the state’s eviction moratorium in October 2020, over 29,000 new eviction cases have been filed in the Massachusetts Housing Court, including over 18,000 evictions for non-payment of rent. In Lawrence alone, at least 608 eviction cases have been filed, 66% of them for non-payment. While community organizations and local governments around the state have been working tirelessly to distribute the $800 million in federal rental assistance — in addition to the millions contributed by private philanthropy — it feels like we are bailing the boat with a thimble.

It’s not only renters who are at risk. Around 30,000 Massachusetts homeowners are seriously delinquent on their mortgage payments, and over 200,000 are not confident they can make their next payment. The forbearance programs that do exist are expected to end in early 2022, if they have not already expired. What’s more, many homeowners with private lenders have never had access to relief or forbearance options at all.

As housing advocates and organizers, we know from experience that this housing crisis hasn’t hit all communities equally. According to the National Equity Atlas, over half of the 109,000 Massachusetts households behind on their rent identify as people of color. Additionally, the majority of Massachusetts homeowners at risk of foreclosure are people of color living in Gateway Cities — including Lawrence.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Since last January, lawmakers have been considering a bill that could prevent unnecessary evictions and foreclosures. We are proud that members of the Lawrence delegation – Representatives Moran, Devers and Minicucci — are showing leadership on these critical issues, and more legislators need to step up to the plate. The COVID-19 Housing Equity bill is not another moratorium. Instead, it’s 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 — a win for everyone. 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.

We urge MA lawmakers to use all the tools at their disposal to address the state’s housing crisis, including the COVID-19 Housing Equity bill. The bill is currently stalled in the Housing Committee, and our residents can’t afford inaction by state leaders. We urge lawmakers across the state to step up as our local leaders have done and take action now to prevent further evictions and foreclosures by passing the COVID-19 Housing Equity bill. It will help protect people’s health and promote a strong, fair recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jessica Andors is the executive director of Lawrence CommunityWorks. Contributors to this column include: Guy Fish, CEO, Greater Lawrence Family Health Center; Evelyn Friedman, executive director of the Greater Lawrence Community Action Council; Yesenia Gil, executive director of Bread & Roses Housing; Ana Luna, executive director of ACT Lawrence; and, Meegan O’Neill, executive director of Essex County Habitat for Humanity.

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