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Typically when there’s a move to provide more affordable housing in a neighborhood, some existing residents rail against it. One of their main concerns: people using housing vouchers, or government subsidies to pay rent, bring crime.
Yes, crime rates do tend to be higher in neighborhoods where many people use housing vouchers. But it’s not because those individuals increase crime — it’s because they move into neighborhoods where crime is already increasing, according to a recent study [PDF].
Researchers at New York University’s Wagner School and Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy examined the relationship between housing vouchers and crime in ten U.S. cities, including D.C. Their evidence shows that people using vouchers choose to live in neighborhoods where crime is high and rising.
That may be due to a number of reasons. As crime increases, vacancies increase and rents drop, meaning landlords may be more willing to take people using housing vouchers. Also, voucher holders can only live in neighborhoods with affordable rental housing, “and they may only know about—or feel comfortable pursuing—a certain set of those neighborhoods, given their networks of social and family ties,” the study’s authors note.
More than 11,000 D.C. families use housing vouchers. The D.C. Housing Authority launched an initiative this summer, Beyond the Voucher, to help such families dispel the negative stereotypes often associated with housing voucher holders.