Evictions Fuel Spike in Crime, New Study Finds
Evictions don’t just take a toll on displaced families, they put the safety of entire communities at risk, according to a new report from Cornell University.
The report, titled “No Shelter No Safety,” found that the rate of evictions in a neighborhood correlates with a spike in violence, as well as theft and property crimes. Researcher Russell Weaver from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations based his conclusions on three recent studies from Philadelphia, Boston and Ohio identifying a link between evictions and crime rates.
Weaver warned that an increase in evictions in New York City and elsewhere in the state could yield similar threats to public safety, especially in low-income neighborhoods.
“The growing incidence of evictions in New York state, if left unchecked, [poses] a significant risk to public safety, neighborhood stability and weakened participatory democracy,” Weaver wrote in the report.
The number of evictions in New York City has been steadily rising since a pandemic-related freeze ended last year, Gothamist reported in January. Records show there were more than 4,000 evictions last year, with the number increasing each month from January to November 2022, though the total still pales in comparison to years prior to the pandemic.
Weaver said the three studies identifying the link between evictions and crime rates were among the first to consider the broader impact of evictions on communities, rather than just the effects on families and individuals.
“In communities that have more evictions, you tend to see a breakdown of social cohesiveness,” Weaver said. “Whenever people are removed from their communities, it creates a break in social ties and the neighborly relationships people have.”
The report cites social science research on the link between community ties and lower crime rates.
“Criminologists and sociologists have found for decades that social cohesiveness is one of the biggest factors to crime prevention and neighborhood safety,” Weaver said. “It’s more ‘eyes on the streets’ so to speak, and that tends to be a deterrent.”
Still, crime rates rose in New York City during a COVID-related freeze on legal evictions. Weaver said “factors unique to the pandemic,” such as job loss, death and isolation, likely played a role.
“The pandemic did still increase desperation in the population,” he said.
The report includes recommendations for policymakers, including a proposed law requiring landlords to offer lease renewals to renters in most cases, a statewide right to counsel for tenants in housing court and a new state-funded housing subsidy modeled on the federal Section 8 program.
New Yorkers can face eviction if they do not pay their rent or violate the terms of their lease, but tenants are also at risk of a so-called “holdover” eviction if their landlord does not offer a lease renewal. They also face displacement if the property owner raises rent.
Throughout New York City, median rents have risen to record highs, with dramatic increases on non-rent-stabilized apartments.
Serena Martin-Liguori, executive director of New Hour Women and Children, works with women behind bars or leaving Rikers Island and Long Island jails and prisons. She said her clients have frequently been arrested and jailed while experiencing homelessness, often after an eviction.
“What led them to become incarcerated many times was poverty, desperation and making choices because they were put in crisis,” Martin-Liguori said. “If we want to increase public safety, we have to give people a place to live.”
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