Dispersing Poor People And Crime
Religion & Liberty Online

Dispersing Poor People And Crime

13317570-indoor-crime-sceneEmily Badger at The Atlantic Wire posts a common sense story regarding the debate about whether or not the dispersing of poor people out of inner-city housing projects into suburban neighborhoods, through government housing voucher programs, increases crime rates. The article reflects recent research by Michael Lens, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA.

A growing stack of research now supports [the] hypothesis that housing vouchers do not in fact lead to crime. Lens has just added another study to that literature, published in the journal Urban Studies. He looked at crime and housing data in 215 cities between 1997 and 2008 – controlling for national and regional crime trends, demographic and income variables, employment rates and more – and found “virtually no relationship” between the prevalence of Housing Choice Voucher Program households and higher crime at the city level or in the suburbs. In previous research, Lens and colleagues had investigated the same question at the neighborhood level.

“Although communities with a higher prevalence of voucher households appear to be higher in crime,” Lens writes, “there is no evidence that this is due to voucher households increasing crime.”

Lens’ findings should not sound too surprising given the fact that poverty does not cause criminal behavior in the first place. In fact, immoral behavior has never been a function of class but a matter of moral fortitude. Granted, poverty most certainly introduces particular temptations (Prov 30:8) but so does wealth (Prov 22:16). Poor people do not have more moral limitations than those who are wealthy. To assume such is make human dignity a function of class and once we cross that road, the poor find themselves the victims of patronizing oppression.

The erroneous assumption that criminals commit crimes because they are poor completely misses the most foundational truths about human nature and tends to send policy-makers on fool’s errands to lower crime rates by redistributing wealth and increasing welfare programs. For example, many progressives confidently suggest that raising the minimum wage will lower violent crime rates in Chicago. This connection should sound strange because it is. The West, in general, seems to have embraced a sort of determinism that links human behavior to materialism.

What we have known throughout human history, however, is that what increases crime rates are criminals. People commit crimes because they believe it to be in their self-interest to violate the dignity and property of others. Criminals have a low view of their own dignity and the dignity of others. That’s a moral problem. Giving housing vouchers to men and women who have no moral reservations about committing crime, regardless of socio-economic status, is simply giving criminals a new place to violate others. This phenomena was experienced when crime rates in Atlanta suburbs exploded after housing vouchers were given to many public housing residents in inner-city Atlanta. The crime rates went up not because low-income people from the city moved to new areas, because there were already low-income people in those areas. Crime increased because criminals found new opportunities to continue their criminal activity, again, because they do not value other people.

While studies like this provide great observations of trends and patterns, they offer very little in understanding that crime rates will only be reduced when their is a moral incentive for men and women to respect the dignity of their neighbor and their neighbor’s property.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony B. Bradley, Ph.D., is distinguished research fellow at the Acton Institute and author of The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone on the Black Experience.