Examining the Argument that Building Affordable Housing Increases Crime

It seems difficult for many people to escape or deflect the preconceived notion that low-income people or housing dedicated to low-income people will bring “criminal elements” to a neighborhood when much of what they see on TV/online keeps perpetuating these ideas. News media and social media users routinely show images and videos of low-income neighborhoods with dilapidated properties or crimes allegedly committed by “Section 8” or “public housing” tenants while giving little to no attention to the many benefits and positive attributes stemming from affordable communities and the community organizations and families living there and the support they often provide each other.[1] The narrative that housing for low-income people is linked to crime also pervades many of the discussions around the siting of new affordable housing developments.[2]

When an affordable housing development is proposed in a community, the media, residents, lawmakers, and others quickly assert, often without evidence, that the new affordable housing will increase crime in the neighborhood. [3] To understand whether this idea has merit or not, this blog will explore the question:

Does building affordable housing (like those developed with Low Income Housing Tax Credits) increase, decrease, or have no impact on crime?

What does the data say about the relationship between building affordable housing and crime?

Crime is a complex issue with many social, behavioral, and economic causes, but no clear link between affordable housing and rising crime has been found by academic researchers.[4] Specifically, properties developed in high-income areas using Housing Tax Credits are not associated with increased crime in the surrounding neighborhood.[5] Higher numbers of housing voucher holders in a neighborhood also had no observed impact on crime rates.

On the contrary, some researchers have found that building affordable housing is related to decreases in crime.[7] There are several reasons why building affordable housing can decrease crime, including an increase in informal “eyes on the street” surveillance by new neighbors moving into the affordable building, increased police presence during and after construction, and increased social and economic stability for residents both in the property and the surrounding community.[8]

Ways to talk about affordable housing and crime.

Since current research does not support the idea that affordable housing leads to more crime and suggests that it may lead to decreases in crime in some instances, what can affordable housing advocates do with this information to move the conversation forward and support building more affordable housing?

Lead with empathy

It is important to recognize that all people want to feel safe and secure in and around their homes. Acknowledging neighbors’ fears can improve the trust and confidence that the proposed affordable housing development will try to address potential concerns and be a community asset.[9] Affordable housing advocates can utilize a community engagement strategy that is led with empathy to figure out the root causes of the neighbor concerns around crime to better address actionable concerns with local governments and law enforcement.

Emphasize the positives

Affordable housing advocates can focus more on discussing the benefits that affordable housing brings to a community and pivot to these benefits when people bring up negative stereotypes about affordable housing. To help with this effort, the California Housing Partnership’s Affordable Housing Map and Benefits Calculator demonstrates the many ways that the construction of affordable housing improves economic and health outcomes for residents, especially children, and the neighborhood. Specifically, residents of affordable housing typically spend their rent savings on basic household needs, like food, transportation, health care, and other essentials, and thus help improve their and their children’s educational, health, social, and economic outcomes as well as local economies.[10] In addition, increased housing stability stemming from long-term affordability is one of the ways that affordable housing can help improve people’s economic outcomes, social connectedness, and health outcomes.[11] By focusing attention on the benefits of affordable housing rather than perceived negatives, people will develop more positive associations with affordable housing over time and possibly overcome some of their reservations about the building of affordable housing in their neighborhood.

Identify and educate tepid supporters

Affordable housing advocates can learn from people who may support affordable housing in general but have some reservations about new affordable housing being built near them and use what they learn to improve their messaging for future affordable housing efforts. A 2021 YouGov poll found 82% of those surveyed supported a national push for more housing, but the support for low-income housing dropped to 65% if it was proposed to be built in their local area.[12] In addition, a 2020 San Diego County study found the fear that new affordable housing would lead to “unwanted behaviors,” aka crime, was less of a concern than how the affordable housing building would look/aesthetics. [13] 

To help address some of these reservations that people have about building new affordable housing in their neighborhood, affordable housing advocates can utilize a variety of ways to communicate how they are addressing potential community concerns, like aesthetics of the building, size of the building, or traffic, work with neighborhood groups and elected officials to gain support from broad coalitions of community members, and where possible discuss the success of previous affordable housing developments in region or state. [14] The key takeaway for advocates is that many people are not entirely against affordable housing, so there is an opportunity to work through people’s concerns about building affordable housing in their neighborhood. Especially if they also speak to its benefits not only to the future residents but also to the broader community.

Call bias by its name

Fourth, we need to recognize the racial and class-related biases that sometimes come with attitudes against affordable housing, especially when fear of crime is brought up to try and block the construction of affordable housing. Residents, business owners, and politicians point to the “character” of the neighborhood they fear will be negatively affected by the new affordable housing or a fear of a “criminal element” moving in, but that can just be a convenient way to mask their wish to keep “certain people” out of the neighborhood. [15]

All the coded language/dog whistles around affordable housing can be easy for some to detect, but all too often, these views are held widely enough that people can use these dog whistle arguments to help keep affordable housing developments from being built.[16] Affordable housing advocates can learn how racist and classist dog whistles may impact efforts to build affordable housing and develop strategies to push back against these divisive tactics where possible.


I hope to have provided some insights into why linking affordable housing and crime is at the very least problematic.[17] I encourage affordable housing advocates to continue to speak out about how affordable housing benefits residents and the surrounding community. Because when we spend more time showcasing the positives of affordable housing and less time speaking to unsupported NIMBY viewpoints, like affordable housing increases crime, we can help further our efforts to build and preserve more affordable housing.


Dr. Anthony Vega leads the Partnership’s research, policy analysis, and program evaluation efforts. He previously worked in research and program evaluation focusing on housing stability, access and crime prevention through environmental design at The Community Builders in Boston and the John Jay Research and Evaluation Center in New York. He has taught 15 courses in Criminology and Sociology at Washington State University and John Jay College.  



  1. Dreier, Peter. 2005. “How the Media Compound Urban Problems,” Journal of Urban Affairs, 27: 193-201; Ambrey, Christopher L., Christopher M. Fleming, and Matthew Manning. 2014. “Perception or Reality, What Matters Most When it Comes to Crime in Your Neighbourhood?” Social Indicators Research, 119: 877–896; Hayat, Norrinda Brown. 2016. “Section 8 Is the New N-Word: Policing Integration in the Age of Black Mobility,” Washington University Journal of Law & Policy 51 (61).
  2. Scally, Corianne Payton and J. Rosie Tighe. 2015. “Democracy in Action?: NIMBY as Impediment to Equitable Affordable Housing Siting,” Housing Studies, 30: 749-769.
  3. Iglesias, Tim. 2002. “Managing local opposition to affordable housing: A new approach to NIMBY.” Journal of Affordable Housing & Community Development Law, 12; 78-122.
  4. Please note, the studies looking into affordable housing and crime go more into the complex nature of the mixed findings than this blog post, but the overall takeaway is the lack of a clear link between affordable housing and crime. Hunter, Ronald D., and Mark L. Dantzker. 2012. Crime and Criminality: Causes and Consequences. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall; Santiago, Anna M., George C. Galster, and Kathryn LS Pettit. 2003. “Neighbourhood Crime and Scattered-Site Public Housing.” Urban Studies, 40: 2147-2163; Lens, Michael. 2013. “Subsidized Housing and Crime: Theory, Mechanisms, and Evidence.” Journal of Planning Literature, 28: 352-363; Albertson, Elaine Michelle, Roxana Chen, Alastair Matheson, Maria Guillermina Ursua, Mike Dolan Fliss, and Stephanie Farquhar. 2020. “Effect of Public Housing Redevelopment on Reported and Perceived Crime in a Seattle Neighborhood.” Crime Prevention and Community Safety, 22, 381-398; Hipp, John, Clarissa Iliff, Emily Owens, George Tita, and Seth Williams. 2021. “The Impact of Affordable Housing on Housing & Crime in Orange County.” Livable Cities Lab; Price, Cody R. and Katherine F. Fallon. 2023. “Perceived Safety of LIHTC Residents in Ohio: Impacts of Building Design,” Housing Policy Debate, 33, 396-413.
  5. Albright, Len, Elizabeth S. Derickson, and Douglas S. Massey. 2013. “Do Affordable Housing Projects Harm Suburban Communities? Crime, Property Values, and Taxes in Mount Laurel, NJ.” City & Community 12: 89-112; Diamond, Rebecca, and Tim McQuade. 2019. “Who Wants Affordable Housing in their Backyard? An Equilibrium Analysis of Low-income Property Development.” Journal of Political Economy 127: 1063-1117.
  6. Lens, Michael. 2014. “The Impact of Housing Vouchers on Crime in US Cities and Suburbs.” Urban Studies. 51: 1274-1289.
  7. Woo, Ayoung and Kenneth Joh. 2015. “Beyond Anecdotal Evidence: Do Subsidized Housing Developments Increase Neighborhood Crime?” Applied Geography 64: 87-96; Dillman, Keri-Nicole, Keren Mertens Horn & Ann Verrilli. 2017. “The What, Where, and When of Place-Based Housing Policy’s Neighborhood Effects,” Housing Policy Debate, 27: 282-305.
  8. It should be noted, that comparing the results of studies looking at affordable housing and crime can be tricky since studies examining these topics often use different definitions for what is considered “affordable housing” and how they measure crime, like focusing on different types of crime. Sources: Schwartz, Amy Ellen, Ingrid Gould Ellen, Ioan Voicu, and Michael H. Schill. 2006. “The External Effects of Place-based Subsidized Housing.” Regional Science and Urban Economics 36: 679-707; Mallach, Alan. 2008. “Managing Neighborhood Change: A Framework for Sustainable and Equitable Revitalization.” National Housing Institute; Freedman, Matthew, and Emily G. Owens. 2011. “Low-income Housing Development and Crime.” Journal of Urban Economics 70: 115-131; Lens, Michael. 2013. “Subsidized Housing and Crime: Theory, Mechanisms, and Evidence.” Journal of Planning Literature, 28: 352-363.
  9. Koebel, C. T., Robert Lang, and Karen Danielsen. 2004. “Community Acceptance of Affordable Housing.” National Association of Realtors; Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research and Metropolitan Institute.
  10. Lubell, Jeffrey, Rosalyn Crain, and Rebecca Cohen. 2007 “Framing the Issues—The Positive Impacts of Affordable Housing on Health.” Center for Housing Policy 34: 1-34.; Jacob, Brian, Max Kapustin, and Jens Ludwig. 2015. “The Impact of Housing Assistance on Child Outcomes: Evidence from a Randomized Housing Lottery.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics; Chetty, Raj, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence F. Katz. 2015. “The Effects of Exposure to Better Neighborhoods on Children: New Evidence from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment.” American Economic Review 106: 855-902; Aizer, Anna, Shari Eli, Joseph Ferrie, and Adriana Lleras-Muney. 2016. “The Long-Run Impact of Cash Transfers to Poor Families.” American Economic Review, 106: 935-71; Fenelon, Andrew, Mayne, Patrick, Alan E. Simon, Lauren M. Rossen, Veronica Helms, Patricia Lloyd, Jon Sperling, and Barry L. Steffen. 2017. “Housing Assistance Programs and Adult Health in the United States.” American Journal of Public Health 107: 571-578. 2019. “Association of Receipt of a Housing Voucher with Subsequent Hospital Utilization and Spending.” JAMA, 322: 2115-2124.
  11. Bottino, Clement J., Eric W. Fleegler, Joanne E. Cox, and Erinn T. Rhodes. 2019. “The Relationship Between Housing Instability and Poor Diet Quality Among Urban Families.” Academic Pediatrics19: 891-898; Chen, Katherine L., Isomi M. Miake-Lye, Meron M. Begashaw, Frederick J. Zimmerman, Jody Larkin, Emily L. McGrath, and Paul G. Shekelle. 2022. “Association of Promoting Housing Affordability and Stability with Improved Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review.” JAMA Network Open, 5: e2239860-e2239860.
  12. Orth, Taylor and Carl Bialik. 2022. “Many Americans say not in my backyard to prisons and homeless shelter.” Retrieved on December 19th, 2023:
  13. For example, a San Diego County study examined community perceptions of affordable housing and found that most people surveyed had a favorable view of affordable housing in general and if the respondents’ issues with proposed affordable housing were addressed their support for affordable housing may become stronger. Source: Abdel-Samad, Mounah, Mike Williams, Brian E. Adams, and Kate DeConinck. 2020. “Community Perceptions of Affordable Housing in San Diego.” This study was conducted by a University of San Diego and San Diego State University research group.
  14. Ross, Jaimie. 2021. “Avoiding and Overcoming Neighborhood Opposition to Affordable Rental Housing.” National Low Income Housing Coalition: Advocates’ Guide: 2-42 to 2-46.
  15. Iglesias, Tim. 2002. “Managing Local Opposition to Affordable Housing: A New Approach to NIMBY.” The NIMBY Report: Using Civil Rights Laws to Advance Affordable Housing. Washington, DC: National Low Income Housing Coalition; Koebel, C. T., Robert Lang, and Karen Danielsen. 2004. “Community Acceptance of Affordable Housing.” National Association of Realtors; Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research and Metropolitan Institute.
  16. Tighe, J. Rosie. 2012. “How Race and Class Stereotyping Shapes Attitudes Toward Affordable Housing,” Housing Studies, 27: 962-983.
  17. For a more comprehensive literature review on the relationship between affordable housing and crime, please read: Lens, Michael. 2013. “Subsidized Housing and Crime: Theory, Mechanisms, and Evidence.” Journal of Planning Literature, 28: 352-363; Dillman, Keri-Nicole, Keren Mertens Horn & Ann Verrilli. 2017. “The What, Where, and When of Place-Based Housing Policy’s Neighborhood Effects,” Housing Policy Debate, 27: 282-305.