A Day in the Life of a CAAS Housing Advocate

David Lopez, Housing Advocate, Community Action Agency of Somerville.

David Lopez, Housing Advocate, Community Action Agency of Somerville.

Editor’s Note: Name of the client is being withheld for confidentiality reasons.

On 6/21/ 18, Ms. X came to the CAAS offices seeking assistance on an eviction case. To David Lopez, housing advocate at Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS), the distraught woman was like so many whose cases he handles each week. A tenant at the Somerville Housing Authority for eleven years; never had a complaint for rent compliance; holds steady employment at a local hotel as a housekeeper. A single mother, she lives with her two children, a boy age 10 and a girl age 14, both of whom attend Somerville Public Schools.

Through an unfortunate series of events, Ms. X was hit, all at the same time, with payments for an outstanding Eversource electricity bill, the repossession of her car, and the rent becoming due all at the same time.  Though she didn’t have any history of nonpayment of rent, the housing authority filed for eviction. The notice for a court appearance, for reasons unknown, didn’t arrive till past the appointed court date. The judge on the case approved the eviction on June 11, 2018.

Mr. Lopez’s immediate response was far from the ordinary. He called the attorney for the Somerville Housing Authority and asked to discuss this case for a few minutes. The attorney’s initial response, after ten days of case closure, was cut-and-dry: the judge has approved the eviction. Mr. Lopez then asked for leniency and the possibility of CAAS working with the Housing Authority to assist Ms. X to settle the back payments in full and remain housed.

The attorney then said (and we paraphrase here), “Only because it is you [as in CAAS] and I have a lot of respect for what you do, I’ll tell you this: I will schedule a court appearance for Ms. X for the 28th of this month. If by then Ms. X has some of the balance owed (and you may possibly refer her for financial assistance from the Somerville Homeless Coalition), and she is willing to enter into a payment plan for the remainder of the balance, and if she is willing in good faith to pay her rent on time for the next twelve months, then I will allow for the tenancy to remain in good standing and vacate the eviction motion.  I know this is a hardworking single mom who never had any issues and we are happy to see true advocacy in action. We are happy to work with you.”

Ms. X and her two children are in their apartment now and that is only possible because of CAAS’s longstanding advocacy reputation with the Somerville Housing Authority and their community relationship with the Somerville Homeless Coalition.

Kate Berliner