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Blowing it up and knocking it down: the effect of demolishing high concentration public housing on crime

  • Daniel A. Hartley

Despite popular accounts that link public housing demolitions to spatial redistribution of crime, and possible increases in crime, little systematic research has analyzed the neighborhood or citywide impact of demolitions on crime. In Chicago, which has conducted the largest public housing demolition program in the United States, I find that public housing demolitions are associated with a 10 percent to 20 percent reduction in murder, assault, and robbery in neighborhoods where the demolitions occurred. Furthermore, violent crime rates fell by about the same amount in neighborhoods that received the most displaced public housing households relative to neighborhoods that received fewer displaced public housing households, during the period when these developments were being demolished. This suggests violent crime was not simply displaced from the neighborhoods where demolitions occurred to neighborhoods that received the former public housing residents. However, it is impossible to know what would have happened to violent crime in the receiving neighborhoods had the demolitions not occurred. Finally, using a panel of cities that demolished public housing, I find that the mean public housing demolition is associated with a drop of about 3 percent in a city’s murder rate and about 2 percent in a city’s assault rate. I interpret these findings as evidence that while public housing demolitions may push crime into other parts of a city, crime reductions in neighborhoods where public housing is demolished are larger than crime increases in other neighborhoods. A caveat is that while the citywide reduction in the assault rate appears to be permanent, the citywide reduction in murder rate seems to last for only a few years.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland in its series Working Paper with number 1022.

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Date of creation: 2010
Date of revision: 01 Oct 2014
Handle: RePEc:fip:fedcwp:1022
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  1. Currie, Janet & Yelowitz, Aaron, 2000. "Are public housing projects good for kids?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 75(1), pages 99-124, January.
  2. Patrick Bayer & Randi Hjalmarsson & David Pozen, 2007. "Building Criminal Capital behind Bars: Peer Effects in Juvenile Corrections," NBER Working Papers 12932, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. David Card & Alexandre Mas & Jesse Rothstein, 2007. "Tipping and the Dynamics of Segregation," NBER Working Papers 13052, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Leigh Linden & Jonah E. Rockoff, 2008. "Estimates of the Impact of Crime Risk on Property Values from Megan's Laws," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 1103-27, June.
  5. Brian Jacob & Lars Lefgren & Enrico Moretti, 2004. "The Dynamics of Criminal Behavior: Evidence from Weather Shocks," NBER Working Papers 10739, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Anne C. Case & Lawrence F. Katz, 1991. "The Company You Keep: The Effects of Family and Neighborhood on Disadvantaged Youths," NBER Working Papers 3705, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Busso, Matias & Kline, Patrick, 2008. "Do Local Economic Development Programs Work? Evidence from the Federal Empowerment Zone Program," Working Papers 36, Yale University, Department of Economics.
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