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Report: Purple Line threatens affordable housing in Langley Park

The recently opened Takoma Langley Crossroads Transit Center, in the heart of the low-income Langley Park community, is a planned stop on the future light-rail Purple Line. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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Unless steps are taken to preserve affordable housing, low-income residents in Langley Park could be priced out of their homes as rents rise when two planned Purple Line stations are built in the area, according to a new report from University of Maryland researchers and an immigrant advocacy group.

Without intervention from the government and others, the report says, “The prospect of long-term affordability in Langley Park does not look promising.”

The 16-mile light-rail line planned for the Maryland suburbs is “both an opportunity and a threat” to Langley Park, at the heart of Prince George’s County’s heavily Latino “International Corridor,” according to the report by the university’s National Center For Smart Growth Research and Education Center and CASA, an advocacy group for low-income immigrants in the Washington region.

“The construction of the Purple Line will likely improve housing conditions,” the report said, “but at a cost that current residents likely cannot afford.”

Suburbs seeking transit look for ways to keep residents from being priced out

The area will benefit from two stations for a light-rail line that state officials say will carry people more quickly and reliably to Metro stations, jobs, schools and other amenities, the report says. The Purple Line, researchers said, also will likely spark redevelopment in older inner-ring suburbs that have struggled economically, particularly in Prince George’s.

However, the report said, that redevelopment and the area’s growing attractiveness when it’s close to light-rail stations also will lead to higher rents, as research shows typically occurs around new transit stations. Langley Park residents are particularly vulnerable, the report said, because 75 percent rent mostly older apartments, and many live in poverty, spend a disproportionately large part of their budgets on rent, and send money to relatives in other countries.

The area has maintained affordable apartments primarily because they’ve been in “less desirable neighborhoods, are older and have few amenities,” the report said. But one in four Langley Park residents recently surveyed by CASA said their monthly rents had risen significantly over the past two years, though researchers said they did not know if that was directly attributable to the planned light-rail line. Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed said they worried about how they would pay their next month’s rent.

In a “call to action,” the report recommends that Prince George’s officials consider ways to intervene to preserve affordable housing, including by targeting building code enforcement to older apartments, exploring a property tax credit for apartment owners who maintain affordable rents, using government funds to buy affordable apartment complexes that go up for sale, and growing public funding for affordable housing via a special tax on property owners that will benefit from the Purple Line stations.

Local developers, nonprofit developers, community groups and property owners also must do their part, the report says.

Local and state officials, along with Langley Park community groups, reached a non-binding “community development agreement” for the Purple Line corridor in 2015 that had affordable housing, among other issues, as a goal. However, the agreement’s signing has been postponed until a federal lawsuit that has stymied the project’s construction is resolved.

State officials had planned to begin construction of the Purple Line in the fall and open it to passengers in 2022. However, that timeline is on hold pending resolution of the lawsuit, which challenges the project on environmental grounds and argues that its ridership projections are unrealistic.