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Assessing the Link Between Foreclosure and Crime Rates: A Multi-level Analysis of Neighborhoods Across Large U.S. Cities

NCJ Number
Date Published
96 pages
The primary purpose of this project was to evaluate the possible link between foreclosure and crime in America.
Levels of foreclosure increased substantially in many American communities during the latter half of the 2000s, leading to widespread speculation that higher rates of crime might emerge as a result. The project addressed three specific questions: (1) Are levels of foreclosure significantly associated with crime rates across neighborhoods after controlling for other factors?; (2) Is any observed effect of foreclosure on neighborhood crime rates contingent on (i.e., moderated by) other neighborhood conditions, including preexisting structural disadvantage, pre-existing vacancy rates, or racial and ethnic context?; and (3) Does the effect of foreclosure rates on neighborhood crime levels vary across cities in systematic ways? The authors addressed these questions by integrating neighborhood-level data on robbery and burglary gathered from local police agencies across the U.S., foreclosure data from RealtyTrac, and a wide variety of social, economic, and demographic control variables from multiple sources. The analysis was based on more than 7,200 census tracts in over 60 large cities spread across 29 states. The authors addressed the core research questions with a series of multivariate multilevel and single-level regression models that account for the skewed nature of neighborhood crime patterns and the well-documented spatial dependence of crime. The study highlights the general importance of analyzing the consequences of neighborhood conditions in a comparative context, and it also suggests that researchers and policy makers should be cautious in drawing strong conclusions about the relationship between foreclosure and crime from research on a single city. While it was found that the foreclosure crisis yielded increases in burglary and robbery in some cities, in the vast majority of places this relationship is not evident. The authors call on future research that explores longer-term consequences within multiple cities in order to more fully assess the possible relationship.

Date Published: January 1, 2014