Crime and Community Development

Ingrid Gould Ellen
In Nancy Andrews and David Erickson, Eds., Investing in What Works for America’s Communities: Essays on People, Places, and Purpose. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, 2012.

Community development has traditionally focused on investments in housing, commercial revitalization, and physical improvements. Although all three are clearly critical to communities, the field has largely ignored (or paid too little attention to) one of the key factors that shape the quality of the everyday life: public safety.

Yet there is growing evidence that families care a great deal about safety and prioritize it above many other community attributes. Concern about safety and crime was one of the main reasons why families participating in the Moving to Opportunity (MTO) demonstration program accepted the option to move out of their high-poverty neighborhoods. Moreover, participating families who received vouchers and assistance to move to lower-poverty environments relocated to safer neighborhoods. At the outset of the study, nearly half of all of the participating households in Boston reported feeling unsafe or very unsafe. Among those offered vouchers to move to lower poverty areas, that share fell to only 24 percent several years later.

Wagner Faculty