Memphis Murder Revisited: Do Housing Vouchers Cause Crime?

Authors: Ellen, Ingrid Gould | Lens, Michael C. | O'Regan, Katherine | Wagner School and Furman Center


Release Date: Febraury 2011 (40)
Posted Date: August 11, 2011

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The size of the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program has increased significantly over the course of its existence. For instance, in 1980, the traditional public housing program was twice the size of the rental certificate program (“HCV predecessor”), but that shifted over time as the rental certificate program grew in popularity and as there was a shift in federal housing strategy from locally owned public housing to privately owned rental housing. By 2008, the voucher program was almost twice the size of the public housing program. There were 2.2 million vouchers nationwide in 2008, compared to 1.2 million public housing units.

Although the academic and policy communities have welcomed this shift, community opposition to vouchers can be fierce (Galster et al. 2003). Local groups often express concern that voucher recipients will both reduce property values and heighten crime. Hanna Rosin gave voice to the latter worries in her widely-read article, “American Murder Mystery,” published in the Atlantic Monthly in August 2008. Despite the publicity, however, there is virtually no research that 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 use census tracts to represent neighborhoods.



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