Publications

  • Author: Ingrid Gould Ellen ×
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  • Mortgage Foreclosures and the Shifting Context of Crime in Micro-Neighborhoods

    In the wake of the housing crisis there is growing concern that increased mortgage foreclosures may lead to physical deterioration of buildings and increased vacancy rates in neighborhoods, undermining neighborhood social controls, and causing increases in local crime. While some recent research suggests that increased mortgage foreclosures in micro-neighborhoods cause modest increases in crime (Ellen, Lacoe, and Sharygin, 2013; Cui, 2010), this paper considers whether foreclosures lead to increased crime on a block, as well as the mechanisms through which foreclosures affect neighborhood crime. To shed light on mechanisms, we investigate whether and how foreclosures shift the location and type of criminal activity by changing the relative attractiveness to potential offenders of one location versus another. For instance, the presence of a vacant, foreclosed building may make it more likely that a drug dealer will sell drugs in a building rather than on the street. As a result, crime occurring inside residences (and in vacant buildings in particular) and on the street may increase by different magnitudes. In addition, we consider whether foreclosures affect resident reports of disorder. Using richly detailed foreclosure, 311, and crime data geo-coded to the blockface (a street segment in-between the two closest cross-streets), we estimate the impact of foreclosures on the location of crime within blockfaces. This research focuses on Chicago, Illinois. Like many areas of the country, housing prices in Chicago reached a peak in 2006, and declined through 2011. In September 2011, 8.7 percent of the mortgages in the Chicago metropolitan area were in foreclosure, giving Chicago the 11th highest foreclosure rate among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country. Recent media reports claim that foreclosed and abandoned buildings in Chicago attract criminal activity including gang activity, drug use, and burglaries, in addition to graffiti, and theft of copper pipes and radiators (Knight and O’Shea, 2011). This study takes an empirical look at how foreclosures have changed patterns of crime in Chicago.

  • Do Housing Choice Voucher Holders Live Near Good Schools?

    The Housing Choice Voucher program was created, in part, to help low-income households reach a broader range of neighborhoods and schools. This study explores whether low-income households use the flexibility provided by vouchers to reach neighborhoods with high performing schools. "Do Housing Choice Voucher holders live near good schools?" was published in the Journal of Housing Economics in March 2014.

  • Maintenance and Investments in Small Rental Properties: Findings from New York City and Baltimore

    Nearly half of all poor, urban renters in the United States live in rental buildings of fewer than four units, and such buildings make up nearly half our nation’s rental housing stock. Yet small rental properties remain largely overlooked by researchers. We present two reports—from New York City and Baltimore—both providing suggestive evidence, drawn from a variety of sources, about the characteristics of small rental housing. We find that while small buildings offer lower rents and play a crucial role in housing low-income renters, these lower rents are largely explained by neighborhood location. Ownership matters, however. In New York, lower rents are associated with small buildings with resident landlords. Further, we also find better unit conditions in small rental buildings when compared to most larger properties, especially in small buildings with resident landlords. In Baltimore, we find that smaller-scale “mom-and-pop” owners dominate the small rental property market, but that the share of larger-scale owners increases in higher poverty areas of the city. The properties owned by these larger-scale owners receive fewer housing code violations and that these owners appear to invest more frequently in major improvements to their properties.

  • High Stakes in the Classroom, High Stakes on the Street: The Effects of Community Violence on Students’ Standardized Test Performance.

    This paper examines the effect of exposure to violent crime on students’ standardized test performance among a sample of students in New York City public schools. To identify the effect of exposure to community violence on children’s test scores, we compare students exposed to an incident of violent crime on their own blockface in the week prior to the exam to students exposed in the week after the exam. The results show that such exposure to violent crime reduces performance on English Language Arts assessments, and no effect on Math scores. The effect of exposure to violent crime is most pronounced among African Americans, and reduces the passing rates of black students by approximately 3 percentage points.

  • Why It’s So Hard to Storm-Proof an Apartment Building

    If Superstorm Sandy taught us anything, it's that we need housing that can withstand natural disasters. But resiliency efforts often focus on detached, single-family houses and ignore larger multifamily dwellings. There are a huge number of physical, financial, and political obstacles to storm-proof apartment buildings.

  • Race and Neighborhoods in the 21st Century: What Does Segregation Mean Today?

    Recent research has argued that racial segregation is no longer a concern in the 21st century. In response, this paper revisits these concerns about racial segregation and neighborhoods to assess their relevance today. This research finds that while segregation levels between blacks and whites have certainly declined, they remain quite high; Hispanic and Asian segregation have, meanwhile, remained unchanged. Further, this paper shows that the neighborhood environments of minorities continue to be highly unequal to those enjoyed by whites. Blacks and Hispanics continue to live among more disadvantaged neighbors, to have access to lower performing schools, and to be exposed to more violent crime. Further, these differences are amplified in more segregated metropolitan areas.

  • The Foreclosure Crisis and Community Development: Exploring REO Dynamics in Hard-Hit Neighborhoods

    As the foreclosure crisis continues, many communities are faced with a glut of properties that have completed the foreclosure process and are now owned by banks or other mortgage lenders. These properties, referred to as “real estate owned (REO),” often sit vacant for extended periods and, recent studies suggest, depress neighboring property values. In this article we shed new light on the “REO problem” by studying the stock of REO properties at the neighborhood level in three urban areas: New York City, Miami-Dade County, Florida, and Fulton County, Georgia. We find that in each area, the number of REO properties was declining as of the end of 2011, and even in the hardest hit neighborhoods, only a small share of REO properties were purchased and “flipped” by investors.  However, in Miami-Dade and Fulton Counties, a small number of neighborhoods continued to have very high concentrations of REO properties, and the REO stock in all three areas was increasingly made up of properties that had been in REO for more than three years.

  • Investigating the Relationship Between Housing Voucher Use and Crime

    This policy brief debunks the long-held myth that the influx of households with vouchers causes crime in a neighborhood to increase. Rather, the report finds that housing voucher recipients tend to move into neighborhoods with high existing levels of crime. These findings should reassure communities worried about entry of voucher holders, but also raise questions about whether the Housing Choice Voucher program is reaching its stated goal of helping recipients reach “better” neighborhoods.

  • Do Foreclosures Cause Crime?

    Foreclosures affect not only individual homeowners, but also the crime levels of the surrounding neighborhood. This study found that neighborhoods with concentrated foreclosures see an uptick in crime for each foreclosure notice issued. These effects are pronounced in hardest hit neighborhoods; that is, those with concentrated foreclosures. The report suggests that policing and community stabilizing efforts should prioritize areas with concentrated foreclosures, especially those where crime rates are already moderate to high.

  • How New York Housing Policies Are Different—and Maybe Why

    This chapter describes New York's housing policies, exploring how and why they differ from those in Los Angeles and other large cities, and whether they have shaped how New York's housing market has weathered the recent downturn. The policies considered are public housing, in rem properties, other subsidized housing, rent control, housing allowances, city capital subsidies for construction and rehabilitation, special needs housing, local tax structures, and building codes. The chapter is organized as follows. Section I describes the city's housing policies and contrasts them with those in Los Angeles and other large cities in the U.S. Section II compares how the housing markets in New York and Los Angeles have fared during the recent downturn and considers whether differences in policies have shaped differences in outcomes. Section III explores some likely explanations for New York's set of housing policies, while the final section concludes.