Word quickly spread around Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood that Kendra Summers could help translate for renters. She helped interpret when Spanish speakers met with landlords for assistance with heat, roof, or flooring repairs. Sometimes, a landlord would try to excuse a delay or attempt to avoid completing the work, and Summers would step in and advocate for the tenants.
“That’s when I realized these people would be able to better communicate with their landlords if they spoke English and knew about tenant rights,” Summers says.
She noticed some landlords tried to take advantage of tenants who were not fluent in English.
“Right now the environment is so hostile to the Latinx community that some people are taking advantage of the fact that this population might not report things that should be reported,” Summers says. They might be afraid of being marked on the map and having that cause problems or retaliation later on.”
After she helped guide an immigrant family through an eviction in February, she realized the gap in services or strategies around emergency-response housing, specifically for the growing Latinx population. When she interacted with her Spanish-speaking neighbors, she found out that many of them wished to purchase homes but didn’t know there were existing programs in Baltimore to help them through that process (even if they did not have a social security number).
That’s when she had the idea for Casa Amable, a program she will design and implement during her OSI Fellowship.
The project has three main components. It involves developing a curriculum about tenant rights and the housing process; using this curriculum to instruct local residents about the housing process while also teaching them English; and establishing a task force to help people experiencing emergency eviction. Summers will collaborate with agencies and nonprofits to develop the curriculum and learn more about what resources are available.
“I’m hoping that once people are able to communicate better, it can begin to build bridges between the communities that live in our neighborhood,” Summers says.
She hopes the project could become a blueprint or a model that could be replicated in other communities.
“If there’s open communication, we can work together,” she says. “I hope we can start to be more of a united community.”
The name Casa Amable – which translates to “Kind Home” – has its roots from the Spanish phrase “muy amable.” Spanish-speakers use that phrase, which means “how kind of you,” to express gratitude.
“I want to mimic that sense of welcomeness, warmth, and kindness around having a home in the United States,” Summers says.
Summers is no stranger to the challenges faced by immigrant families. She is a first-generation American. Her mother and grandmother immigrated from Argentina, and as a child Summers observed the advantages in employment her mother received after learning English.
“She didn’t have a choice but to learn English,” Summers says. “I would like to spark that fire to try to encourage today’s residents.”
Summers’ mother also used to help local immigrant students learn English, which Summers takes inspiration from today.
“I didn’t appreciate it until I was older, and saw how it impacts people,” Summers says. “A lot of people have mentioned that they’re intimidated to learn English. I want people to feel confident and empowered to take control of their lives by taking this first step. Learning this language here can open so many doors for people.”