Demolishing Vacant Houses Lowers Property Crime in Cleveland, No Effect for Other Cities

Demolishing Vacant Houses Lowers Property Crime in Cleveland, No Effect for Other Cities
Jonathan Spader, Jenny Schuetz, Alvaro Cortes
Regional Science and Urban Economics
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Does tearing down vacant buildings lead to less localized crime? A recent paper published in Regional Science and Urban Economics examined results from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) in three cities and found that demolishing vacant buildings reduced burglary and theft in one city, but across cities, rehabilitating buildings did not lead to a measurable decrease in crime in the immediate area surrounding vacant properties. The NSP provides funding to state and local governments to “acquire and redevelop foreclosed properties that might otherwise become sources of abandonment and blight within their communities.” The researchers analyzed local crime report data for the areas immediately surrounding nearly 1,500 properties targeted for NSP revitalization in Cleveland, Chicago, and Denver. Most of the properties were in Cleveland (71 percent) and were tagged for demolition, rather than for rehabilitation or redevelopment. Demolishing vacant buildings with NSP funds led to a sustained decrease in property crimes in Cleveland, but not for Chicago or Denver. The researchers note several explanations for the positive impact for only one city, but posit that the fewer and more spread out targeted vacancies in Chicago and Denver limited the analyses’ precision. This paper suggests that removing or redeveloping a large number of vacancies in areas where they are concentrated could reduce crime in those neighborhoods.

Key findings:

  • Grantees in each of the three cities received NSP allocations in 2009 to address blighted or vacant properties. The study sample for Cleveland included 1,054 properties tagged for reinvestment, Chicago had 275 properties, and Denver had 139 properties. Most of the target properties in Cleveland were demolished, Denver grantees primarily chose to rehabilitate their target properties, and Chicago grantees employed a mix of both strategies.
  • Local crime statistics were gathered from March 2008, before the NSP grants were dispersed, to February 2013. The data were grouped into two rings surrounding the site: the immediate 250-foot inner ring (the treatment) and the 250- to 354-foot outer ring (the control).
  • The inner ring surrounding the demolished sites in Cleveland saw small reduction in property crimes—particularly burglary and theft—that was sustained over following year. No effects were found for violent crime.
  • Chicago and Denver did not see the same positive results, but both cities had fewer distressed properties to be addressed and greater heterogeneity in the reinvestment strategies employed. Denver also had a much lower crime rate to start with than Chicago or Cleveland.