Critics of Housing Choice Vouchers have alleged that an increased presence of voucher holders leads to increased crime in some neighborhoods. Systematically and empirically studying the question for the first time, this paper finds that while neighborhoods with a higher proportion of voucher holding residents tend to see higher crime rates, there was not a causal relationship. The research reveals that other neighborhood characteristics are much more significant in determining crime. Instead, it appears that voucher holders tend to move in after a neighborhood experiences a rise in crime, suggesting that the intended role of vouchers to enhance holders’ neighborhood choice may be limited.
The federal government increasingly relies on housing vouchers to make housing more affordable and hopefully enable low-income households to reach higher quality neighborhoods. This study analyzes the efficacy of the voucher program at achieving this goal, focusing on neighborhood crime. Using census tract-level crime and subsidized housing data from 91 large cities in 2000, the study compares neighborhood crime rates of voucher holders to those of public housing, Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and unassisted poor renter households. Our paper finds that while voucher households resided in neighborhoods about as safe as that of poor renter households, and with much lower crime rates than those lived in by other subsidized households, the voucher households did not choose a lower poverty neighborhood. In addition, the study finds differences by race, which suggest that housing vouchers may be more effective helping black households reach safer neighborhoods than white and Hispanic households.