- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

Unlikely allies stood up in defense of Hispanics in Langley Park last week, when four rabbis signed an open letter to the Prince George’s County Planning Board.

The Jewish leaders protested what they see as insufficient concern for affordable housing in development plans for the area surrounding the proposed Purple Line, a rapid-transit system that would link the Red, Green and Orange lines of the Metro.

The affected Langley Park area’s ethnically diverse community includes many Hispanic and low-income families.

“The concern is that the Purple Line will bring about gentrification and people will be forced out of their homes,” said Rabbi Robert Saks, who lives in University Park.

He and other activists worry that the county’s plan for the Takoma and Langley crossroads would demolish low-income apartments and build new housing that the residents could not afford.

The rabbis’ letter quoted Numbers 24:5of the Jewish Bible: “How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling place, O Israel!”

“This is the standard we must hold ourselves to,” the letter continued. “How goodly are our dwelling places? … We fear that without greater detail in the Sector Plan we will fall short in Takoma/Langley Park. … As currently formulated the plan would displace thousands of current residents, many of whom are long-standing renters and business owners.”

Catholic religious leaders have also weighed in on the issue.

“The proposed Purple Line as currently envisioned by the plan will enhance the life of a group of better-off people while causing relocation of people who will endure harsh times,” John Geron testified before the planning board last month on behalf of the Prince George’s County Justice and Advocacy Council, a local Catholic group.

The Rev. Larry Hayes, chaplain of the Catholic Community of Langley Park, testified at the same hearing.

“I made the case that while development is all well and good, it shouldn’t be placed on the backs of the poor,” he said.

Father Hayes holds Catholic services for about 500 Langley Park residents every week. He said his concern for the community’s housing stems from a desire to love his neighbor.

“It’s simply living out the Gospel,” he said.

The rabbis’ letter expressed their sense of obligation to pursue “peace, security and prosperity” in their neighborhood. Mr. Saks, who led the letter-writing effort, said he frequently shops in Langley Park and cares about social justice for the neighborhood. He has been concerned about the Purple Line plans since he attended a hearing last year.

“The rabbis are not isolated from the rest of the community. We care about the welfare of our neighbors,” he said.

The county is receiving written feedback on the plan until Tuesday.

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