How Do You Respond? Section 8 and Crime

In 2008, a sensationalistic article in The Atlantic tried to draw a causal connection between tenants with housing assistance vouchers being dispersed from demolished public housing in Memphis and increased crime in the neighborhoods where they ended up. We published a detailed response by Xavier de Souza Briggs and Peter Dreier, with dozens of endorsers explaining why the author was off base. 

The Furman Center at New York University has a paper showing that in fact, housing voucher recipients are moving to neighborhoods where crime was already increasing (and presumably, therefore, prices dropping), not causing the increase.

But the association persists. In last week's Shelterforce survey, we asked you how you responded when confronted with someone who believes voucher holders bring crime.

Given multiple choice options, most of you said you responded with variants on “that's not true” or “housing discrimination is the real crime,” though many people also did mention concentration of poverty and lack of landlord screening as potential reasons for the association.

And here's some of what you said in your own words:
“My neighbors who have Section 8 are not criminals, they just don't have high paying jobs. Good thing Section 8 is helping them afford to meet their basic needs so they can provide a stable life for themselves and their kids, instead of cycling in and out of homelessness and relying on the charity organizations that we all donate to!”

“Usually I ask people 'How do you know who receives housing assistance and who doesn't?- Generally their assumptions are based on race, and not much more, most people will shut up at that point, because they don't want to look like a bigot.”

“Honesty and dishonesty occurs at the same rate among poor people who may need help affording a decent place to live as it does among rich people who can afford to live anywhere they want. The rest of us in the middle are no different. Safe neighborhoods are ones in which neighbors are alert and know their neighbors well enough to communicate with them about activities in the neighborhood.”

“More efficient screening should happen. If living condition rules are broken, penalties should be enforced. If a neighborhood wants to be safe and clean, tenants need to make that message clear in collaboration with owners, businesses, and organizations. Only the power in numbers will have effect on making a difference.”

“Just like regular tenants, section 8 tenants have as much or as little propensity for crime.”

“I often will give examples of housing developments I have known or been involved with where the initial expectation was that there was going to be a problem, and then it turned out the new tenants were great neighbors and an asset to the community.” [Ed note: like these.]

Miriam Axel-Lute is CEO/editor-in-chief of Shelterforce. She lives in Albany, New York, and is a proud small-city aficionado.


  1. I myself feel that subsidized housing programs and landlords are the problem. Landlords have became GREEDY putting the rents way up there in order to keep the poor away. so of course the poor are FORCED to accept in a crime ridden area because the rents are much lower. then the poor move in to these crime ridden areas because they are FORCED to do so because of the amounts of rent being charged. then the Landlords who are accepting the subsidized vouchers are nothing but SLUMLORDS not caring what kind of conditions the place is in all they care about is the money they can steal from the government. BUT then you have the inspectional services for these subsidized programs that pass these DUMPS of so called Apartments and dose NOTHING to put a stop to it. they allow the Landlords to continue to be slumlords . so all are guilty BUT the poor because all the poor is looking for is a safe place to call home.


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