Crime Exposure Is Lower for Housing Voucher Holders than for Peers

Crime Exposure Is Lower for Housing Voucher Holders than for Peers
Michael C. Lens, Ingrid Gould Ellen, Katherine O'Regan
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Tenant-based rent subsidies, such as the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, are designed to provide low-income households with more options about where to live, allowing families to leave high-crime areas or move to communities that meet their individual needs. Research published in Cityscape compares the crime levels in neighborhoods where voucher holders live with those of three other categories of low-income renters: public housing residents, residents of Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) developments, and other low-income renter households. The study used National Neighborhood Crime Study data, which provided crime rates for more than 9,000 census tracts in 91 U.S. cities from 1999 to 2001. In addition, researchers used crime data from seven cities in 1998 and 2008 to look at whether exposure to crime has changed for voucher holders over time.

Major findings:

  • Compared to households overall, voucher holders lived in neighborhoods with significantly higher crime rates. However, voucher households lived in neighborhoods with lower crime rates than other groups of low-income renters.
  • In voucher holders' typical neighborhoods, there were 76.9 crimes per thousand people. This compares with crime exposure rates of 82.2 crimes per 1,000 people for other poor renters, 100.6 for LIHTC tenants, and 108.4 for residents of public housing. The crime exposure rate for all households (not just low-income renters) was 62.0 per 1,000 people.
  • The rates of exposure to violent crime followed a mostly similar pattern. The crime exposure rates for voucher holders' neighborhoods was 14.3 per 1,000 people. This was significantly higher than the 9.2 violent crime exposure rate for households overall, but significantly lower than the violent crime exposure rates for LIHTC residents (16.9) and public housing residents (22.3). The violent crime exposure rate for other poor renters, however, was not significantly different from the rate for voucher holders.
  • 4.4% of voucher-assisted households lived in high-crime neighborhoods compared with 3.1% of households overall, 6.0% of poor renters, 10.8% of public housing residents, and 11.3% of LIHTC tenants.
  • Voucher households’ exposure to neighborhood crime declined consistently as household income increased, producing large differences across income groups.
  • Among voucher holders, Latino households lived in neighborhoods with the lowest crime rates, and African-American voucher holders lived in neighborhoods with the highest crime rates.
  • For African-American households, having a voucher was associated with living in a lower-crime neighborhood than similar households without vouchers. The reverse, however, is true for Latinos and Whites with vouchers.
  • From 1998-2008, the typical voucher household experienced a reduction in crime exposure in every city except for Austin, although in that city the crime exposure increase for voucher holders was smaller than that experienced by the average household in the city.