More Poor People=More Crime? Not Necessarily, Says Report

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Photo by: Jarrett Murphy

When City Limits visited New Orleans three years after the federal levee failure that followed Hurricane Katrina, the Crescent City faced the question of whether and how to bring more of its evacuated low-income residents back—and where to put them.

A civic association leader in the traditionally white Lakeview district told us that his neighborhood was not a suitable place for low-income housing. “People want to be around people who are in the same economic category,” he said. “You want someone who’s going to maintain their property the same way you maintain your property, after we’ve made the investment we’ve made.”

And while feelings about race and poverty easily blend, we heard a similar theme in traditionally black New Orleans East. “Something we’re concerned about is the number of Section 8 people coming in. That concerns us in that when we get that, we get it in large concentrations,” said a community leader there. “The government doesn’t prepare them to take care of houses and they live like they live in the projects. We’ve got to figure out a way to help those brothers and sisters.”

New Orleans isn’t the only place where the possibility of incoming Section 8 recipients spurs fears of the social ills that might come with lower-income neighbors. Federal programs that we were once faulted for concentrating poverty are now succeeding in deconcentrating it to the ‘burbs. Of course, larger economic trends also play a role: As urban living has become safer and more fashionable, an influx of wealthy residents to cities is apparently pushing poverty outside of urban boundaries. This raises legitimate questions about whether smaller towns and suburban settings have the resources that lower-income residents need, like, say, mass transit.

But when it comes to the question of whether arriving poor residents drive up an area’s crime rate, the Furman Center has just come out with a report that finds no evidence of a causal relationship between incoming voucher residents and crime increasing:

…[O]nce we control for crime trends in the broader area (which could not be caused by voucher holders in the specific tract), there is no significant association between the presence of voucher holders in one year, and crime in the next. …

However, when we examine the relationship between current crime and voucher counts in the future, we find much stronger evidence of a reverse causal relationship. More crime predicts more voucher holders in the future.

Read the full study “Do Housing Voucher Households Cause Crime?”.

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