Rising eviction rates aren’t just a problem for renters: a new study adds to evidence that housing instability is a public safety issue that affects everyone.
A growing body of evidence over the past few years shows that evictions have a direct impact on crime rates, including studies out of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Boston. Now, a report published by Cornell University draws some of the same conclusions about New York state.
The report establishes that evictions in many upstate cities and towns directly correlate with a decrease in social cohesion and economic connectedness (or relationships between people of different class backgrounds). While it doesn’t establish direct causation between evictions and crime rates the report notes that these indicators track closely with crime rates.
New York State’s eviction moratorium elapsed in early 2022. Since then, the eviction rate has been ticking higher and higher, and is poised to meet pre-pandemic levels, according to a Cornell analysis of court records. Eviction rates in 40 of the state’s 62 counties exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 2022, according to Cornell’s dashboard. Evictions in New York City increased by 590% in 2022 compared to the period between March 2020 and January 2021 when the state’s eviction moratorium elapsed.
The Cornell report builds on previous research on evictions, finding that they “disrupt social networks in both the communities where individuals are evicted from and the neighborhoods to which they move,” and that these diminished social ties “harm the ability of communities to work together to solve collective problems.” The result is that “by destabilizing social ties and breaking down civic infrastructure, evictions can lead to rising crime and declining public safety.”
The report found that ZIP codes with the highest eviction rates saw proportional decreases in social connectedness, and that there was “a strong association between these two phenomena that cannot be explained by chance alone.”
The report’s author, Russel Weaver, cautions that the figures show correlations, and not causal relationships, but that the findings are “highly consistent with the growing state of knowledge on eviction’s community-level impacts.”
The report draws its data on social connectedness in New York from a paper published in the journal Nature last August. That paper uses data from the Social Capital Atlas, which analyzes anonymized data from 21 billion Facebook friendships. Researchers looked at data from 72 million Facebook profiles of people between the ages of 25 and 44 to measure social cohesion, looking at connections and levels of interaction across class lines and levels of civic engagement.
Weaver acknowledges that Facebook data isn’t ideal, telling Motherboard by email, “The measures are far from perfect, but that Atlas has been one of the higher profile, finer spatial resolution attempts to measure various dimensions of social capital across the U.S. (and to make it through peer-review).”
He said that more granular data is easier to come by in other states, which is why it was easier for previous reports about Ohio and Pennsylvania to draw clearer conclusions about causation.
“It’s pretty clear that there’s a ton of interest in conducting similar research here in NYS (or at least in some NY cities), but researchers will first have to get their hands on the right data for the job,” Weaver told Motherboard.
A 2021 study found that evictions in Philadelphia had a “a direct association” to an uptick in homicide, burglary and robberies between 2006-2016, controlling for other factors. A study of evictions in Ohio looking at data between 2000 to 2014 found that every 10 percent increase in evictions led to 5.5 percent higher burglaries and 8.5 percent higher number of vehicle theft, which the researchers concluded were driven by people experiencing homelessness looking for shelter.
The Cornell report recommends passing several bills currently being considered in Albany as New York heads into an early April budget deadline. They include a bill supporting Good Cause, which would bar landlords from evicting tenants except in specific circumstances, including non-payment of rent. Other recommendations include a new housing voucher for people on the brink of eviction or experiencing homelessness and passing a statewide “Right To Counsel” bill that would guarantee attorneys to people in eviction court who can not otherwise afford them.
Research on housing instability and crime has added to a growing chorus of advocates pushing for legislators to invest in housing in order to address rising crime, rather than relying on policing and other carceral approaches. Notably, while the existing body of research is still small, there is a clearer consensus about evictions and crime rates than there is between police headcounts and crime rates. A meta analysis published in 2017 looked at 62 studies conducted between 1972 and 2013 and found “the effect on crime of adding or subtracting police is miniscule and not statistically significant.”
A statewide Right to Counsel would cost an estimated $500 million, and the presence of an attorney in housing court has been shown to reduce evictions—84 percent of people in housing court who had access to Right To Counsel attorneys were able to stave off eviction. Compared to New York State’s $220 billion budget—and the $11 billion budgeted for police just in New York City, it seems like a pretty strategic investment.
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