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The Concentration Myth!
by David Stanowski
05 October 2010

Public housing is a failed social experiment, but its proponents will never admit it.

Every time that its problems “flare up” to reveal its obvious failure; its supporters claim they have just “discovered” what needs to be changed to make it work; “next time”. Currently, they believe that reducing the “concentration” of public housing will fix past problems. They argue that placing “too many” units in a given area lead to the current failures. Therefore, after experimenting with this program for 73 years, they now believe that reducing the concentration of public housing units will finally make it successful. This article will examine the validity of this belief from three different perspectives.

First, and foremost, common sense will be applied to this claim.

The upper-middle class and the rich have lived for decades in buildings that concentrated them, in large numbers, in such enclaves as Manhattan, without suffering any of the ill effects that are alleged to afflict those living in public housing projects. Similarly, the middle class and working class have lived in buildings with the same or greater concentrations as those in public housing without increasing their family dysfunction, turning these buildings into areas of blight, or resorting to crime.

If the number of people living in a building, or neighborhood, does not affect these groups, how can a valid argument be made that it is a major reason for the latest failure of public housing? Why should public housing cities believe that the current attempts to “de-concentrate” public housing will have any beneficial effect on their cities or public housing residents?   

Second, what is the experience of public housing cities with de-concentration efforts using scattered sites and Section 8 vouchers?

Each city is a little different, but Memphis saw its crime rate INCREASE when it tore down its housing projects and de-concentrated the former residents throughout the metro area using vouchers. On September 27, 2007, a local headline read: “Memphis Leads U.S. in Violent Crime.”

City leaders finally realized that “the demolition of the city’s public-housing projects, as part of a nationwide experiment to free the poor from the destructive effects of concentrated poverty, that they’d been engaged in for the past decade, had been bringing the city down, in ways they never expected.” This is because they ASSUMED that de-concentrating their public housing residents would bring positive results without any real proof!  

Section 8 is “... a catalyst in neighborhood deterioration and ghetto expansion.” “… the arrival of Section 8 housing in a suburban community causes crime and police calls for service to spike up almost immediately.”

“… researchers around the country are seeing the same basic pattern: projects coming down in inner cities and crime pushing outward, in many cases destabilizing cities or their surrounding areas.”

“… today, social scientists looking back on the whole grand experiment are apt to use words like baffling and disappointing.” Susan Popkin of the Urban Institute said, “It has not lived up to its promise. It has not lifted people out of poverty, it has not made them self-sufficient, and it has left a lot of people behind.”

Crime experts point to the ability of criminals to move their activities throughout a wider variety of locations, and to avoid arrest by hiding out within a larger network of associates as just two reasons why a de-concentration of the criminal element, in public housing, may help them to be more “successful”.  

University of Louisville criminologist Geetha Suresh found that when the former residents of the housing projects moved, “Crime is going along with them.” The experience in Memphis, and many other cities, would seem to confirm that the problems in the projects were caused by the behavior of their residents, not the number of public housing units in a given area.

Third, some academic models, such as the work of housing expert George Galster, of Wayne State University, predict that if a city engineers a move from a fairly low number of both high-poverty and low-poverty neighborhoods, by de-concentrating public housing residents, to a more uniform landscape with more areas of moderate poverty; the crime rate is likely to rise!

“In 2003, the Brookings Institution published a list of the 15 cities where the number of high-poverty neighborhoods had declined the most. In recent years, most of those cities have also shown up as among the most violent in the U.S., according to FBI data.”

Learn Purchase Real Estate for Cents on the Dollar!

Those who believe that a rebuilding plan that scatters the 569 public housing units throughout the City, rather than concentrating them back on the same footprints, will minimize the problems they will bring to the City; are acting on beliefs, not facts!

"... replacing an old failure with a new one should not be confused with success."

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