Rising Crime Rates Tied to Evictions: Philadelphia Study

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Photo b y Lynn Friedman via Flickr

Higher eviction rates in Philadelphia neighborhoods are linked to higher crime, homicide and burglary rates, demonstrating the neighborhood-wide implications of eviction, according to a report published in the journal Crime & Delinquency (CAD). 

While authors have previously documented the financial, physical and educational consequences eviction carries for individual families, the authors of the CAD study — Rutgers University–Camden criminal justice professors Dan Semenza, Richard Stansfield, Nathan Link, and Jessica Grosholz, a criminology professor at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee — attempted to fill a research gap: the influence of eviction on neighborhood-level outcomes.

The authors found a direct association between neighborhood eviction rates and crime rates, adding that eviction in higher-poverty neighborhoods was associated with increased incidence of robbery and burglary, but not homicide.

“Taken together, our findings suggest that eviction is a destabilizing force for local communities with potentially significant criminogenic consequences in already-disadvantaged neighborhoods,” the authors write.

To determine why eviction and crime are closely linked, the authors identify distinguishing — and detrimental — characteristics of eviction, calling it “unique from other types of mobility that affect the stability of local communities.” Enacted by force, evictions often push families into unfamiliar neighborhoods, limiting their ability to forge community ties.

By plunging people into economic precarity, eviction “compounds the pre-existing struggles of poverty that correspond to higher rates of crime,” the authors write. In communities with high rates of eviction, the loss of possessions, reduction of credit access and barriers to qualify for public housing assistance undercut financial, physical and mental health, leading to “criminal coping.”

“Criminal coping to deal with the resultant financial fallout of eviction via ‘desperation’ or acquisitive crimes like robbery or burglary may be especially relevant,” the authors write. “Violence such as homicide may also increase due to the acceleration of severe disadvantage but also as a response to increases in local robbery and burglary.”

Based on their findings, the authors suggest several policy efforts to reduce eviction and alleviate its consequences. Although housing assistance may help to reduce the link between eviction and crime, evicted tenants often struggle to navigate the process of housing assistance, necessitating “more generalized public assistance” over rigid programs.

The lack of affordable housing — only 37 affordable and available rental homes exist for every 100 low-income renters in the U.S. — requires a long-term federal approach focused on building more affordable units. Furthermore, Americans should attempt to reduce evictions before they occur through landlord-tenant mediation, rapid repair for building code violations and short-term funding for renters in crisis.

Other strategies to reduce evictions include funding educational campaigns about tenant rights, helping tenants collect evidence of illicit eviction practices and guaranteeing tenants legal representation.

“These practices require investment at the local level but may provide crucial opportunities for reducing eviction in the absence of adequate federal housing policy and a crippled social welfare system that often does not provide for those most in need,” the authors write. “In turn, these housing-centric policies may help to improve communities more broadly through reduced crime rates.”

To access the full report, click here.

Eva Herscowitz is a TCR Justice Reporting intern

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