Housing Vouchers And Crime

An important piece of research from Ingrid Gould Ellen, Michael C. Lens, and Katherine O’Regan (PDF):

Potential neighbors often express worries that Housing Choice Voucher holders heighten crime. Yet no research systematically examines the link between the presence of voucher holders in a neighborhood and crime. Our paper aims to do just this, using longitudinal, neighborhood level crime and voucher utilization data in 10 large U.S. cities. We test whether the presence of additional voucher holders leads to elevated rates of crime, controlling for neighborhood fixed effects and either time-varying neighborhood characteristics or trends in the broader sub-city area in which the neighborhood is located. In brief, crime tends to be higher in census tracts with more voucher households, but that positive relationship disappears after we control for existing trends. We find far more evidence for the reverse causal story; voucher use in a neighborhood increases in tracts with rising crime, suggesting that voucher holders tend to move into neighborhoods where crime rates are increasing.

There’s a general association between poor people moving into a neighborhood (whether via vouchers or anything else) and living conditions declining in the neighborhood. People like to blame other people for their problems, especially if the people look differently from them, so this is often interpreted as poor people creating bad conditions when another interpretation of the story is that poor people tend to migrate to places where conditions are deteriorating because it’s cheap. Insofar as the latter trend dominates (as this research suggests) it indicates that people need to ratchet-down their fear of policies that might allow “undesirable” types to have access to their neighborhood.