Thursday, April 12, 2012

Public housing demolition not (exactly) related to crime

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2012 at 2:24 PM

Atlantas Bowen Homes was demolished in 2009.

I've spent some time during my tenure at CL trying to figure out what, if any, connection there's been between the nature of crime in Atlanta and the dispersion of public housing residents. I learned quickly achieving that was easier said than done, but not quickly enough to save our poor art director from putting together several color-coded maps that ended up being useless. (Sorry, Chris.)

See, the underlying thesis is that because Atlanta's housing projects were these concentrated pockets of crime and poverty, their demolition and their residents' subsequent relocation to neighborhoods throughout the city would disperse crime as well. That ended up being difficult to determine for a number of reasons, among them the fact that crime - violent crime especially - has decreased so drastically in Atlanta and basically everywhere in the U.S. since the mid-90s.

The Urban Institute, a non-partisan public policy think tank, published a study yesterday that "rigorously investigated whether relocating public housing residents into private-market housing affected crime rates in Chicago and Atlanta." The two main take-aways from their study:
- It's a complex issue because crime decreased so much overall.

The relationship between crime rates and relocated public housing households moving into the private market is complex. Crime declined dramatically in both cities. Throughout the 2000s - even in neighborhoods that received many relocated households.
... This decline contributed to a small but significant net decrease in violent crime across all Chicago neighborhoods and a small decrease in violent and property crime in Atlanta neighborhoods.

- In neighborhoods where a lot of former public housing residents moved, however, crime decreased less.

However, the picture is not entirely positive ... some neighborhoods in both cities have experienced problems associated with concentrations of relocated households.

Once the number of relocated households reached a certain threshold, crime rates, on average, decreased less than they would have if there had been no public housing inmovers.

Our findings clearly indicate a much smaller impact of public housing transformation on destination neighborhood crime rates than popular accounts imply. Nevertheless, they suggest that there are negative impacts for some neighborhoods when relocated households take up residence in them. Using neighobrhoods with at least one relocated household, we defined four categories of relocatee density: very low density areas have more than zero to 2 relocated households per 1,000; low density areas have more than 2 to 6; moderate density areas have more than 6 to 14; and areas with high density have more than 14 relocated households per 1,000.

BUT, then the study goes on to say that, "In Atlanta, there were no statistically significant threshold effects at any level for traditional [Section 8] voucher holders in regards to violent or property crime."

"Overall," the study says, "our findings show that a substantial majority of neighborhoods in both cities were able to absorb public housing relocation voucher households without any adverse effect on neighborhood conditions."

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