South Bend Tribune, Jim Rider
Residents of South Bend, Ind., stand in line to add their names to a Section 8
waiting list.

Small-City Crime: Is Section 8 to Blame?

July 03, 2008 09:03 AM
by Shannon Firth
Some critics of the controversial federal housing assistance program cite it as a direct cause of high crime rates in small cities, but the data’s not so clear-cut.

30-Second Summary

In this month’s Atlantic magazine, journalist Hanna Rosin explores a recent trend of crime in large cities tapering off while crime in medium-sized cities climbed as much as 20 percent in a year.

At least one report blames the surge in small-city crime on Section 8, a program established in the late 1970s to move public housing residents into better neighborhoods.

Tennessee housing expert Phyllis Betts and her husband, Richard Janikowski, merged a map of crime locations with a housing map of Section 8 tenants and discovered a near-perfect match.

But when an April 2008 study of Section 8 at the University of North Carolina mapped crime locations and compared them to locations of voucher residents, the results didn’t match up. In Durham, N.C., high-crime areas in fact housed “relatively few Section 8 residents.”

Still, Section 8 beneficiaries are hardly welcome tenants in many places. A 2007 New York Times article discussed a local proposal obligating New York City landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers. Frank Ricci, of the independent Rent Stabilization Association countered that forcing landlords to take Section 8 tenants was unfair.

But crime isn’t the only issue. A Fannie Mae report from 1999 showed that having only a handful of Section 8 homes close to other homes “positively effected” real estate values in mostly white neighborhoods. However, having “high densities” of Section 8 sites did not.

Headline Links: Who’s to blame for small-city crime?

Background: Section 8 and its effects

Historical Context: History of pubic housing in America

Opinion & Analysis: Viewpoints on Section 8

Reference: Fannie Mae study


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