City-funded housing repairs in low-income neighborhoods impacts crime rates

Investing in structural home repairs in historically segregated, low-income, Black and Latino neighborhoods has been associated with reduced crime rates. In Philadelphia, when a home received repairs through a city-funded program, total crime dropped by 21.9% on that block, and as the number of repaired houses on a block increased, instances of crime fell even further, according to research from the Perelman School of Medicine published in JAMA Network Open.

Eugenia “Gina” South, an assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and faculty director of the Penn Urban Health Lab.

In an effort to address an old housing stock and high levels of historical disinvestment in Philadelphia, the city implemented the Basic Systems Repair Program (BSRP) in 1995, which repairs structural damages to the homes of low-income owners, such as replacing an exterior wall to stop leaking, or electrical repairs that include replacing circuits that overheat, spark, or won’t stay on, causing inconsistent heating and unreliable electricity. The majority of BSRP homes are in Black and Latino neighborhoods. Researchers hypothesized that over time these microinvestments would have an impact on community health, including crime.

Using BSRP data from 2006 through 2013, researchers determined that 13,632 houses on 6,732 blocks in Philadelphia received BSRP repairs. They then merged crime data—which included instances of homicide, assault, burglary, theft, robbery, disorderly conduct, and public drunkenness—from the Philadelphia Police Department with BSRP data to create a database that allowed them to understand the impact of BSRP investment on crime in every block across the city over time. This data revealed lower instances of all crime, including homicide, on blocks with a single BSRP-repaired home compared to blocks that were eligible for a BSRP-repaired home but did not get the intervention. With each additional repaired home, instances of crime on that block declined further.

“We can now add structural home repairs to the growing list of place-based neighborhood interventions with strong evidence that they can help reduce violent crime,” says lead author Eugenia South, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and faculty director of the Penn Urban Health Lab. “Violent crime is out of control in many cities across the country right now and policy makers should prioritize funding for structural, scalable, and sustainable interventions such as the BSRP that address the lasting scars of historical disinvestment in Black neighborhoods.”

This story is by Kelsey Odorczyk. Read more at Penn Medicine News.