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.