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Affordable Housing Reduces Crime

The Justice Policy Institute (JPI), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank dedicated to ending society’s reliance on incarceration, issued a research brief examining the correlation between housing and public safety.

America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 1.4 million people in prison and over 700,000 people in jails. Meanwhile, an estimated 3 million people, annually, are homeless. “26 percent of people in jail reported that they were homeless in the year prior to their incarceration, and 19.5 percent of state prisoners reported being homeless,” according to researchers.

The study focused on “affordable housing,” which it defined as “permanent housing that is affordable to persons making 80 percent of the median income in the area,” and its subset of “supportive housing,” which it defined as “housing that provides on-site services to individuals in need of support to improve or maintain their health, independent living skills, income, employment, socialization skills, quality of life, and, most important, maintain their housing. People who qualify for this type of housing may include the homeless, people with mental illness, the elderly, those with substance abuse problems, and those being released from incarceration.”

JPI found that low-quality housing, and the risk factors associated with it, may affect public safety. “Exposure to lead, associated with older, deteriorated, and lower-quality housing, can result in increased delinquency, violence, and crime,” according to the report. JPI cited a government study which “found that long-term trends in exposure to gasoline lead were clearly consistent with violent crime rates, and they were strongly associated with murder rates. Furthermore, children who are exposed to higher levels of lead tend to display more aggressive and delinquent behavior than those who are not exposed.”

Researchers cited a 2002 National Institutes of Health finding “that 35 percent of low-income housing (housing occupied by families with an annual income of less than $30,000) had lead-based paint hazards, compared with 19 percent of housing that is not considered low-income.”

JPI acknowledged that “people leaving prison are especially vulnerable to homelessness because they often are banned from federal housing, face challenges reconnecting with family and friends, and lack the funds to afford available housing.” A California study cited by JPI reported that “50 percent of Los Angeles and San Francisco parolees were homeless in 1997.” Accordingly, JPI concluded that affordable and supportive housing for people who are released from prison “can help promote public safety and other positive social outcomes.”

Despite the strong correlation between increased spending on supportive housing and reduced correctional spending, “jurisdictions continue to spend more on corrections than on housing” by a wide margin. “An increase in spending on housing is associated with a decrease in violent crime at the national level and a decrease in incarceration rates at the state level,” according to JPI. “An increase in spending on housing and community development paired with a decrease in spending on corrections is associated with both lower crime rates and lower prison incarceration rates.”

Source: “Housing and Public Safety,” Justice Policy Institute (November 1, 2007). (

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