On Nov. 17, the Purple Line Corridor Coalition hosted its annual stakeholder meeting to discuss the progress of the train’s construction and changes due to the pandemic. The meeting included testimonies of various people impacted by the construction of the line.
The Purple Line is a train line that will connect Montgomery County to Prince George County, extending from Bethesda to New Carrollton. During the meeting, Sheila Somashekhar, the director of PLCC, discussed how the Purple Line will benefit the community living around it.
“It’s going to be a way for job seekers to get to where the jobs are particularly those who are living in areas that are underserved by transit in their thriving communities,” Somashekhar explained.
During the meeting, the directors discussed several obstacles they have had to overcome. Aside from the pandemic slowing down construction plans, the Black Lives Matter Movement has challenged them to think about their place in history, Somashekhar said.
In order to demonstrate their support for the Black community, the directors of PLCC are “hosting an event that’s going to be exploring the history of segregation and redlining along the Purple Line that again has led to what we see in terms of disparities along the corridor today.” Somashekar stated.
One of these disparities is the issue of housing in the communities impacted by the Purple Line. Jorge Benitez-Perez, organizer at Casa, an organization that helps immigrants receive housing, spoke at the meeting. He offered his support for the construction of the line, but also discussed some consequences of the ongoing construction.
“We at CASA, we are in favor of the Purple Line. We think it’s great for the environment. We think it’s a great transportation system, but we are worried about the repercussions that could come when it comes to housing,” Benitez-Perez explained.
Benitez-Perez specifically described the issues with rent that tenants cannot pay due to unemployment and other contributing factors, such as the pandemic. The pandemic has “actually fueled the crisis, where people are now worried about being evicted next flight,” he said.
Because the tenants face bad living conditions and cannot afford to pay the high rent, they participate in rent strikes and organizations like CASA fight for their demands in management and ownership. Langley Park and Riverdale are two areas affected by the housing crisis –– will also be impacted by the Purple Line more as the train runs through these two areas.
Langley Park is an area with a large percentage of minority groups. According to the United States Census Bureau, the area’s population consists of 82% Hispanic or Latino citizens. So, this demographic group has been hurt the most by the pandemic and construction of the PLCC.
Isaias Portillo is a Langley Park resident who was working on the construction of the train when the pandemic halted its progress and he was left unemployed. Since the pandemic, rent has increased dramatically and Portillo’s unemployment has made it difficult to pay his rent. Portillo is concerned about the continued rise in rent prices, even after he returns to work on the Purple Line.
“I’m scared that when the Purple Line is done, we won’t be able to pay,” Portillo said.
His only hope is to continue fighting for lower rent prices with organizations such as CASA and participating in rent strikes and protests.
“What we can do is fight together for that not to happen, so that they don’t get rid of people unfairly, that they don’t kick them out,” Portillo explained.