Fewer Vacants, Fewer Crimes? Impacts of Neighborhood Revitalization Policies on Crime

Jonathan Spader, Jenny Schuetz, Alvaro Cortes

The relationship between neighborhood physical environment and social disorder, particularly crime, is of critical interest to urban economists and sociologists, as well as local governments.  Over the past 50 years, various policy interventions to improve physical conditions in distressed neighborhoods have also been heralded for their potential to reduce crime.  Urban renewal programs in the mid-20th century and public housing redevelopment in the 1990s both subscribed to the idea that signs of physical disorder invite social disorder.  More recently, the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) provided funding for local policymakers to rehabilitate or demolish foreclosed and vacant properties, in order to mitigate negative spillovers—including crime—on surrounding neighborhoods.  In this paper, we investigate the impact of NSP investments on localized crime patterns in Cleveland, Chicago and Denver. Results suggest that demolition activity in Cleveland decreased burglary and theft, but do not find measurable impacts of property rehabilitation investments—although the precision of these estimates are limited by the number of rehabilitation activities.