by Maya Brennan, Center for Housing Policy
High rise public housing developments are known for their intractable crime problems. Demolitions and new housing strategies sought to break up the poverty concentrations, improve neighborhood conditions, and improve outcomes for residents. Did those efforts work? What happened to crime after public housing transformations? A recent Urban Institute report uses more than eight years of data to try to answer that question. What the researchers found, like most good research, is hard to express simply but makes a lot of sense.
Any connection between public housing and crime is really a connection between economic distress and crime. So public housing transformation initiatives that successfully disperse poverty have also successfully decreased crime. But when poverty reclusters in already vulnerable neighborhoods, crime may follow.
The added wrinkle of complexity here is that crime rates were trending down during the period studied already, so the story is mainly of crime dropping more than, the same as, or less than expected. But complexities like that don’t lend themselves to easy blog posts, so those who want to dig deeper into the crime trajectories should probably dig deeper into the report itself. (It’s short and clear, I promise.)
One of the big lessons is that communities can help low-income residents escape poverty pockets without spreading crime around the area by ensuring that all local residents regardless of income have access to quality affordable housing in low-poverty areas.