Streams

Purple Line Stokes Gentrification Fears

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - 12:42 PM

University Boulevard in Langley Park is already starting to see the effects of the Purple Line, three years in advance of construction. (Photo by Matt Bush/WAMU)

(Washington, DC -- Matt Bush, WAMU) Maryland's Purple Line is years away from completion, but a group of small business owners say they're already feeling its effects.

Danny Santacruz owns America Hair Design, right at the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard in Langley Park.  One day, the Purple Line will go through there. Construction is at least three years away, but Santacruz and his salon may not be here by then. Rent is getting higher and higher, to the point that Santacruz says he could rent in D.C.'s upscale Dupont Circle neighborhood for the same price.

"I've noticed on the leases, there's no renewal now after five years," says Santacruz. "They continue to increase (rent). It could have to do with the Purple Line. It could not. It could just be a coincidence. I don't really know."

He's done business in Langley Park for 11 years, but now, he sadly imagines what riders will one day say as they ride the Purple Line through there. "'Yeah, I remember they used to have Hispanic cuisine at this restaurant, or Indian cuisine at that restaurant,'" he says. "'Oh yeah, that was a long time ago. We have whatever store is there now.'"

Others are  more certain the higher rents in the area can be connected to the proposed Purple Line, and they fear that while they'll get the mass transit they've always wanted, it will destroy this neighborhood they call the "International Corridor" because of all its small businesses run by, and catering to, immigrants. Zorayda Moreira-Smith is a lawyer with Casa De Maryland, and she says the process of gentrification is beginning with landlords and developers.

"We are starting to see, unfortunately, people planning," says Moreira-Smith. "People don't want to have these long leases, because they know that will commit them to this baseline rent. And they know that they'll probably be able to get more once construction starts and the Purple Line is built."

Moreira-Smith says Casa does not want to see here what happened in the D.C. neighborhood of Columbia Heights, where big box retailers such as Target and Best Buy now do business. The Montgomery County Council is considering a bill targeting such retailers by forcing them to sign community benefit agreements supporters feel would protect existing businesses.

"These big box businesses are not here to compete with local small businesses. They're here to take over," Moreira-Smith says.

County executive Isiah Leggett has threatened to veto the measure, saying it sends a bad message and makes the county less business friendly.

There is no construction start date set for the Purple Line.

To hear the audio version of this story, go here.  And for more about DC and gentrification, listen to the TN documentary Back of the Bus: Mass Transit, Race and Inequality.

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