Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
New research debunks this fear in 142 cities across the U.S.
The foreclosure crisis is thought to have caused all kinds of downstream consequences for cities across the country, leading to lost tax revenue, strained government services, broken community ties, increased criminal activity and even public health problems.
But new research concludes that one of these fears may be only just that: there has been no direct association nationally between the housing crisis and serious crime. The new study, conducted by Professor William Alex Pridemore and doctoral student Roderick Jones at Indiana University Bloomington, counters theories and headlines (often repeated by police officials) that criminals have rushed into neighborhoods as foreclosed families have moved out.
The researchers looked at 142 metropolitan statistical areas throughout the U.S. and compared crime statistics for six violent and property crimes – homicide, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft – with a measure of the health of the local housing market called the the Housing-Mortgage Stress Index, created by Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander.
"The anecdotal evidence that is available in local and national news suggests that crime associated with foreclosures has become an important problem for city budgets and police agencies," the researchers write in a special issue of the journal Social Science Quarterly. "Scientifically, however, there is little empirical evidence that the foreclosure-crisis has influenced rates of violent and property crime."
Pridemore and Jones controlled for the crime rates in each of these cities prior to the housing bust, as well as for a number of other variables often associated with crime, including local poverty rates, population density and unemployment rates. Their findings also contradict some neighborhood-level research that has been conducted on this same question, much of which theorized that the housing crisis had depleted the capacity of communities to respond to crime, as well as the financial ability of police departments to fight it. The "broken windows" theory of policing also suggests that neighborhoods with clearly vacant homes or untended property might entice opportunistic criminals. But this doesn't appear to be the case.
"Moving forward, researchers should begin to think about why the foreclosure crisis is not directly linked to rates of violent and property crime," Pridemore and Jones suggest. "…It may be that for foreclosure to have a significant impact on crime, other social and demographic characteristics must first be present."
Top image: John Gress/Reuters