American Murder Revisited: Do Housing Vouchers Cause Crime?

Ellen, Ingrid, Katherine O’Regan and Michael C. Lens
Housing Policy Debate 22(4):1-22

Potential neighbors often express worries that Housing Choice Voucher holders heighten crime. Yet, no research systematically examines the link between the presence of voucher holders in a neighborhood and crime. Our article aims to do just this, using longitudinal, neighborhood-level crime, and voucher utilization data in 10 large US cities. We test whether the presence of additional voucher holders leads to elevated crime, controlling for neighborhood fixed effects, time-varying neighborhood characteristics, and trends in the broader sub-city area in which the neighborhood is located. In brief, crime tends to be higher in census tracts with more voucher households, but that positive relationship becomes insignificant after we control for unobserved differences across census tracts and falls further when we control for trends in the broader area. We find far more evidence for an alternative causal story; voucher use in a neighborhood tends to increase in tracts that have seen increases in crime, suggesting that voucher holders tend to move into neighborhoods where crime is elevated.