SEABROOK – Prince George’s County must start increasing funding for affordable housing, manage the growing interest on open properties and establish new legislation protecting renters that will live along the new Purple Line light rail corridor, according to a new action plan released on Dec. 12.
The Purple Line Corridor Coalition (PLCC), a public-private-community collaboration in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, released a regional Housing Action Plan which layout ways lawmakers can preserve at least 17,000 affordable homes along the new Purple Line.
The 16-mile, 21-station Purple Line is currently under construction, expecting to run through both counties with end stations located in Bethesda and New Carrollton starting in 2022.
The goal of the plan, according to Stephanie Prange Proestel, Deputy Director for Housing Initiative Partnership, is to make sure all residents benefit from the Purple Line to improve their lives while growing local communities into the mixed-use neighborhood.
“Housing is a critical element of any successful transit investment, but specifically in this region, it’s vital to the economic and social value of the corridor,” Gerrit Knaap, director of the National Center for Smart Growth, which houses the Purple Line Corridor Coalition, said. “This plan serves as an outstanding model for the future work of the PLCC.”
According to the plan, Prince George’s County’s Housing Investment Trust Fund, which was established in 2013, has over $6.5 million available, including a $2.5 million transferred over from the General Fund for FY2020.
More than $4 million is allocated to help load funds for multi-family housing, while $1.5 million is for closing cost loans. Rental assistance is not included in the funding.
However, the weakness of the amount currently in the fund is that it is not enough, Proestel said. The fund intends to help produce affordable housing, but at its current status, there will not be enough projects completed by the time the Purple Line is running. The plan advises the county to double its efforts up to $13 million by the next three years and contribute more than $80 million over the next 10 years.
“Frankly, (the fund) can only support two-to-three projects in the entire county,” Proestel said. “So, if we want to make any kind of difference along the Purple Line, we really have to target the Purple Line (and) be very strategic about how we look at it. We are seeing properties trading hands rapidly.”
For the past year, county officials have stressed the importance of investment to grow its commercial base. However, Proestel, who also is a part of a county council-run group called Housing Opportunities for All Advisory Committee, said that lawmakers at their most recent meeting discussed the need to grow the trust fund as well.
Moving forward, it will be important for the county to make sure rent stays at an affordable level for current and new residents that plan to live along the route, the plan said. One of the biggest areas of concern is New Carrollton, where 60% of households earn an annual income of $70,000 or less.
Unlike partnering Montgomery County, Prince George’s County has more room from investment for development along the Purple Line Corridor. However, while its neighboring district has passed multiple bills to manage control of housing and rent prices, Prince George’s has not been working fast enough to create more housing laws to protect current residents, Proestel said.
One example is the implementation of the Right of First Refusal Act, which passed in 2013 to regulate the sale of multi-family rental housing to keep quality low-and moderate-income affordable rental housing available in the county. While county officials established regulations through its department of housing and community development in 2015, Proestel said there had been little evidence of the law being used at this time.
“This allows the county to purchase family property that is going to change hands and goes under contract,” Proestel said. “The seller of the property is required to inform the county that they have a buyer for the property and give the county a chance to buy that property. The county can then either acquire it or have a nonprofit purchase it.”
In response to the study, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said that the county is “committed to leveraging our collective resources across county lines and will work to support the existing residents that live along the Purple Line corridor as well as create new affordable and market-rate housing along the (Purple) Line.” There was no acknowledgment from Alsobrooks if she supports adding more money to the trust fund.
The county has started building up areas that will be on the Purple Line corridor as it began taking proposals on the former property of a former U.S. Park Police Station located at 6700 Riverdale Road in November. The property is a part of a “high needs community” where the average income is below the county’s average of $81,000, Councilmember Dannielle Glaros said.
As part of the proposals for the site, submissions must include a combination of retail with affordable housing, which was outlined in the East Riverdale Beacon Heights Sector Plan.
Glaros lauded the help that the county received from the PLCC and other partnerships in the best practices of keeping rent and housing prices low.
In October, JPMorgan Chase Bank announced that it would invest $5 million in grant money over the next five years to support business owners and residents living along on the Purple Line.
Currently, Kaiser Permanente is working on promoting affordable housing in Riverdale Park, with other parts of the county being added soon.
“There is a lot of people talking about this but are also taking discrete steps,” Glaros said. “That’s why this proposal is more than just building market-rate housing, and that’s why affordable housing is in the mix in this proposal.”