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Homicide Patterns and Public Housing: The Case of Louisville, KY (1989-2007)

NCJ Number
Homicide Studies Volume: 13 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2009 Pages: 411-433
Geetha Suresh; Gennaro F. Vito
Date Published
November 2009
This study examined the impact of the revitalization of low-income, public housing properties on homicide patterns in Louisville, KY, for 1989-2007.
The study concludes that low-income public housing and Section 8 housing properties provide an environment conducive to homicides. This pattern remained even when the nature of public housing changed. The reform designed to provide affordable housing in the form of new single-family homes, rental apartments, and townhouses was based on the principle of "new urbanization," which promotes inner city neighborhood stability by encouraging the disadvantaged to develop a sense of pride in their neighborhood through home ownership. Crime, specifically homicide, became displaced to where the low-income residents were relocated. Homicide was simply moved to a new location, not eliminated. The revitalization of low-income housing shifted the homicide occurrence to other socially disorganized areas that continued to promote the growth of the urban underclass. Public housing residents are exposed to an elevated risk of victimization that may also cause them to become more isolated through fear. Under routine activities theory, public housing properties typically feature a number of variables that could provide an opportunity for motivated offenders to commit homicide. In public housing, guardianship is weakened by a majority of single-parent households in low-income neighborhoods. Coupled with social disorganization theory, neighborhood distress and the availability of suitable targets elevate homicide patterns in both public and Section 8 housing. Although the low-income public housing itself may be safe, it draws offenders to vulnerable victims and produces an elevated crime risk. If public housing residents constitute vulnerable victims, public housing policy and revitalization should focus on providing defensible space that protects tenants. If public housing residents are the offenders due to socioeconomic factors, the focus should be on bringing economic growth and development to public housing areas. 4 tables, 9 figures, 3 notes, and 73 references