Interesting Story on Housing and Crime

A reader sent me a link to what was a pretty interesting story on housing programs and crime in the most recent issue of the Atlantic.  In short, federal housing policy over the last 20-30 years has been to blow up central housing projects (fans of the Wire on HBO will have a good idea of this type of place) that tended to concentrate poverty in a few neighborhoods in favor of voucher programs that would spread the very poor around.  The idea was to get the poor into middle class neighborhoods, with the hope that middle class schools, support networks, and values might be infused in the poor.

Some now seem to be worried that exactly the opposite is happening.  As the article relates, city centers are being revitalized by sending the poor and associated criminal elements outwards.  But in turn, certain here-to-fore quiet suburbs are seeing crime spikes, and these crime waves seem to line up well with where the housing vouchers are being used.

A couple of thoughts:

  • [insert libertarian rant on government playing god with poor people's lives, drug prohibition, government schools, etc.]
  • The people of Houston would not be at all surprised by this, and might call it the Katrina effect.  It may well be that the dispersion of poor families will eventually result in reductions in total crime (say in the next generation or two), but hardened criminals of today don't stop being criminals just because they move to new neighborhoods -- certainly Houston has found this having inherited many criminals from New Orleans.
  • I still think that if we are going to give out subsidized housing, that this in the long-run is a better approach.  The authors of the article seem to fear that the poor, having been dispersed, lost their support networks.  But it strikes me that it was this same network that reinforced all the worst cultural aspects of the old projects, and long-term I think fewer new criminals and poorly motivated kids will exist in the next generation if we can break some of this critical mass up. 
  • The article is an interesting example of how new attitudes about race can get in the way of discussion as much as the old ones.  Stories about increasing crime in the suburbs after an influx of black poor is just too similar to the old integration fears held by whites in the 1960s and 1970s. 
  • bobby b

    The downside in the disperse-them-to-the-burbs theme (as was pointed out to me by our local suburban police chief) is that when poor and criminally-minded people live surrounded by lots of poor people, their business opportunities are very limited and discouraging, but if you ship those poor and criminally-minded people out to the burbs, the hugely increased pickings cause them to regain enthusiasm for their chosen profession.

  • Anonymous

    It sounds as if you're willing to sacrifice the quality-of-life of those who worked hard to move away from the city for the sake of those who caused them to move in the first place. The statistics on increased crime in suburbs which have seen an influx of the urban poor aren't made up. You were on the right track with your " libertarian rant on government playing god with poor people's lives". Should've stopped there.

  • Dr. T

    I never understood the subsidized housing issue. If the people want our government to provide a safety net, then it should be a rope net, not a 400 square meter plush mattress. I believe the housing safety net for the poor should consist of barracks or dormitories. If these are good enough for our soldiers and our college kids, they ought to be good enough for poor folks. The advantages are obvious: lower costs, easier security, and greater motivation to get a job and move into an apartment. Also, I believe that poor people who cannot afford to rent an apartment will make greater efforts to find alternate housing (with relatives, for example) if they aren't automatically given vouchers.

  • Scott Wiggins

    One critical item that goes unreported is that nearly every section eight mother is supporting a male who is not working, barely working, or worse yet engaging in criminal behavior. She gets the house and he gets a roof over his head and food on the table courtesy of the taxpayer. No, he is not on the lease and they are not married but the government has little or no means of controlling who moves in with the welfare recipient. These government programs have now corrupted generations of black males. Do you ever wonder why you see so many hanging around town on street corners when you would think that they should be working? I work in the Real Estate industry in Charleston, SC and witness this type of activity on a daily basis. As well, the city of North Charleson which provides for the vast majority of public housing in our county is ranked seventh in the nation for violent crime...Go figure.

  • Linda Morgan

    "The article is an interesting example of how new attitudes about race can get in the way of discussion as much as the old ones. Stories about increasing crime in the suburbs after an influx of black poor is just too similar to the old integration fears held by whites in the 1960s and 1970s."

    This ending's got me scratching my head. The Atlantic article doesn't seem to be about "new attitudes about race" so much as about new insights into the spread of crime and the role of government programs in spreading it.

    We shouldn't flinch from discussing these developments because they are "just too similar to the old integration fears."

    Double-digit leaps in violent crime rates correlating with government mandated dispersal of government wards are not just a bump in the road on the way to our bright future of equal housing opportunities for all. They’re the legacy of government come blazing in, guns drawn, to tell one generation after the next who is going to live where on who’s dime and with what degrees of responsibility and impunity.

    Some people could see past race and racism and discern that even in the 1960s and 1970s. We can’t afford to close our eyes to it now.