The Purple Line Corridor Coalition, Prince George’s County Council members and other community development partners discussed solutions to small business preservation, affordable housing and community vibrancy at a meeting Thursday night.
The coalition — a partnership of stakeholders in the county invested in the Purple Line — provided updates on efforts to create community vibrancy, and highlighted resources for businesses struggling due to the pandemic and delays in Purple Line construction.
Jeff Swilley, vice president of workforce services from Employ Prince George’s, highlighted resources the organization provides to job-seekers. The resources include career advising and resume assistance, along with reemployment grants, partnerships with Prince George’s County Community College and county public schools.
County council member Deni Taveras emphasized the importance of workforce development and connecting workers along the corridor — who often hold immigrant status, lack literacy and do not have a high school degree — with immediate job opportunities. In Takoma Park, these barriers are especially pronounced, she said.
Taveras also noted that the county was considering inclusionary zoning, right of first refusal and rent stabilization policies on a case-by-case basis, which all would work to keep rents low and set aside units within new development specifically for affordable housing. These policies, Taveras said, are needed in order to build the capacity for workforce development.
Vonnette Harris, a housing development consultant for Purple Line Corridor Coalition, spoke about goals such as increasing the current supply of housing, strengthening tenant advocacy and connecting with nonprofit developers to help support affordability and preserve existing properties.
“It shouldn’t be to anyone’s surprise that when there’s major investment in mass transit — yes, it creates new economic opportunities for growth and advancements for the locality — but it also can create mass displacement for low to moderate income families,” Harris said.
County council member Dannielle Glaros further addressed the need for affordable housing along the Purple Line corridor.
“We do anticipate that in a few years we will see affordable housing coming out of the ground right there at a Purple Line stop, and that’s the type of investment we want to see more in the county,” Glaros said. “This is us, the county, leveraging our asset land, to be able to deliver a public good in our community.”
Amazon is also interested in investing in affordable housing directly near Metro and Purple Line stations, Glaros said, which could further help spur employment opportunities throughout the corridor.
Javier Rivas, a representative from the Latino Economic Development Center, discussed services to benefit small businesses that were impacted by the construction. Construction disruptions can be a significant barrier to retaining and attracting customers, said Sheila Somashekhar, president of Purple Line Corridor Coalition.
The Latino Economic Development Center works with local organizations to provide access to capital and consulting to small businesses in need to help them not only survive the construction period but also to take advantage of economic growth post-construction. The center focuses primarily on businesses that are minority and women-owned and have five or fewer employees, which they believe are the most important.
“They serve a much larger role in our communities,” Rivas said. “They serve as anchors in their neighborhoods for communities and also locally driven economic activity. They create jobs and upward mobility.”
Somashekhar also emphasized the positive economic impact the Purple Line would have on small businesses in Riverdale and Langley Park, who would likely receive traffic from Bethesda and other wealthier suburbs because of increased access through the light rail.
“I imagine the day when the Purple Line trains are running and you can move from one community to the next,” she said. “That’s the vision we’re working towards.”