Somerville's legally designated anti-poverty agency
The Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS) is this city's legally designated anti-poverty agency. After an early history of joint Somerville-Medford and then Somerville-Cambridge agencies, a group of Somerville citizens founded CAAS as an independent organization in 1981. In 1982, the Head Start program serving Somerville became a department of CAAS. CAAS Head Start became a two-city program when it began serving Cambridge children and families in 2007.
The motto of CAAS in its early years was "People achieving more by working together." Since its inception, CAAS has helped people in Somerville keep their homes and worked to preserve affordable housing in the city. From 1987 to 1990, CAAS sent community organizers to the Clarendon Hill Towers in West Somerville, helping residents prevent the developer from raising their rents when federal subsidies expired. Today, the tenants' association that CAAS helped establish owns the Towers. The management company answers to the tenants. CAAS added an Eviction Prevention Project in the 1990's that is still the core of its Advocacy and Community Services Program.
Throughout the 1980's, CAAS helped Somerville change as a city, and welcome new immigrants. A rapid response network responded to incidents of ethnic and racial discrimination as they occurred. The Haitian Coalition began as a program at CAAS before becoming independent in 1992. CAAS also diversified its own staff. A CAAS sponsored youth group, Jovenes Latinos, developed the Latino leaders of the next generation from 1992 to 2010. Currently, the majority of CAAS employees speak more than one language, and CAAS conducts its business in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Haitian Creole, and other languages as needed.
CAAS is an agile and adaptive agency, able to respond quickly in the policy realm. When a wave of foreclosure threatened to make renters homeless, CAAS helped them find their voice and make powerful people listen. When refugees from the earthquake in Haiti arrived in Somerville, CAAS found them housing and gave them visibility in the service community and with the government. When the Great Recession hit in 2008, and economic stimulus funds became available to Somerville in 2009, CAAS created new programs to give money and support to families who needed both. CAAS continues to identify community needs as they emerge and coordinate the community's response to meet the needs as they arise.