LANGLEY PARK – As county leaders await the final court decision on the long-delayed Purple Line, researchers and advocates are working to make sure the benefits of the light rail don’t come at too high of a cost to vulnerable neighborhoods. On Jan. 23, CASA de Maryland and the University of Maryland’s National Center for […]
LANGLEY PARK – As county leaders await the final court decision on the long-delayed Purple Line, researchers and advocates are working to make sure the benefits of the light rail don’t come at too high of a cost to vulnerable neighborhoods.
On Jan. 23, CASA de Maryland and the University of Maryland’s National Center for Smart Growth released a report about affordable housing in Langley Park, the future home of two Purple Line stations. Titled “Preparing for the Purple Line: Affordable Housing Strategies for Langley Park,” the report is the conclusion of a two-year housing study detailing current conditions in Langley Park and strategies leaders could use to protect affordable housing and prevent resident displacement.
“This report is a call to action. It is a call to action for the state and county officials, the agencies, local non-profit and for-profit developers and property owners, community groups and residents to come together to find ways to preserve and protect one of Langley Park’s most valuable assets, which is its vast supply of affordable housing,” said Julio Murillo, policy analyst with CASA. “What we want to do is ensure that they, the existing communities here in the Purple Line corridor, are the ones who actually benefit from the Purple Line in the short, medium and the long term.”
The study provides data about the residents who make up those existing communities. Langley Park is located in the “International Corridor” and 81.2 percent of its residents identify as Hispanic, according to 2013 U.S. Census data quoted in the report. Although the county unemployment rate is 7.2 percent, 11.2 percent of Langley Park residents are unemployed and only 36.8 percent of them are high school graduates, compared to 85.5 percent county-wide.
The study also found that approximately three-quarters of Langley Park residents rent rather than own their homes. More than half (53 percent) of households spend 31 percent or more of their income on housing costs, which the federal government classifies as being cost-burdened. The authors concluded that preventing rises in rent is an important part of ensuring the Purple Line doesn’t displace existing residents.
“Transit can help to improve neighborhoods, it can help increase the supply of quality, affordable housing, it can provide better access to jobs throughout the region and it can help to grow small businesses,” said Dr. Willow Lung-Amam, leader author of the report. “But it can also be a source of rising rents and housing prices that can displace residents.”
Lung-Amam and her team have identified several strategies for protecting affordable housing. Among those listed in the report are tax credits for rental property owners who keep prices low and creating a taxing district around Purple Line stops with money used to preserve affordable housing; helping non-profits to buy and rehabilitate multi-family properties (for example by making use of the county’s right of first refusal legislation); phasing new development projects so “natural” vacancies created by not signing up new leaseholders allow for redevelopment without forcing residents to relocate; and setting up a community land trust.
“We came together with the understanding that development without displacement is possible in Langley Park. And that was the foundation of our report, and that was also the conclusion of our report,” Lung-Amam said.
She also said more effort should be given to connecting residents with federal housing affordability assistance programs. Currently, only 52 holders of housing vouchers live in Langley Park, although 65 percent of households there have income levels low enough to qualify them for assistance.
The housing study also found the quality of housing in Langley Park needs improvement. The report says 69 percent of the housing stock in the community is below the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development Standards, and that 54 percent of community members who responded to a CASA Needs Survey said the property where they live was managed “poorly” or “very poorly.” The survey also found that 38 percent of respondents had mice or roach problems in their homes.
“One of the things this report makes clear is that one of the reasons we have so-called affordable housing here in Langley Park is because of the housing quality,” Lung-Amam said.
Resident Omar Rojas, who lives in The Villas at Langley apartment complex, explained the needs as he saw them.
“All the buildings here need maintenance,” Rojas said through an interpreter. “We need cameras at all the corners and at all the doors to enter the building because there’s a lot of vandalism in the apartments. We need more security in the entire Langley Park area.”
The report says the Purple Line offers solutions to that problem as well. It suggests the county conduct more targeted code enforcement in the area and direct property owners with violations to resources to help them improve things.
Murillo said the number one goal of the report was to provide additional data for the county council to use as it formulates its comprehensive housing strategy and add to the conversations taking place around affordable housing.
Councilwoman Deni Taveras was unable to attend the report’s unveiling, but said through a staffer that she was committed to providing Langley Park the resources it needs.
“I will always support efforts to increase access to home ownership and higher quality, affordable rental housing in Langley Park. The Purple Line can be part of creating solutions to addressing the challenges of preserving and creating new affordable housing,” she said.
Del. Carlo Sanchez (D-47B) is the community’s representative in Annapolis and said he is also working to make sure gentrification will not happen in Langley Park, to “maintain the culture of the area but make it a better environment” for residents.
“What’s important to understand is everybody is totally committed to keeping everyone who is currently living there. They really add to what the community is in Langley Park,” he said.
Sanchez said accountability in the long term will be important in making sure property owners adhere to agreements they make regarding quality and affordability of housing.
“A lot of the time, with these developments, we don’t get a long-term plan for how to police it,” he said. “We need a way to go back and police after three years, five years, seven years.”
He said he has also spoken with Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford about making sure local residents and businesses get contracts to build Purple Line infrastructure.
“Look at the amount of skilled labor you have living there. So I think it would be really great to get them to do some of the work,” Sanchez said.
On the code enforcement issue, Sanchez said the Purple Line could lead to more businesses opening to serve riders, which would provide more revenue to pay for code enforcement. But those businesses are also more likely to open if code enforcement is already being performed adequately.
“It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg situation,” he said.
Sanchez said the neighboring community of Takoma in Montgomery County has created a program to provide supplemental funds for code enforcement there, which Prince George’s County could study. There are other pieces of smart growth legislation the Montgomery County Council has passed that could serve as models, he said.
Study authors say getting leaders to think about a variety of potential solutions was the point of issuing the report.
“It is recommended to be seen as an ideas document,” said Casey Dawkins, a co-author. “It’s a challenge that a lot of communities around the country are facing, and there are good ideas out there for how to address these kinds of issues.”