Section 8 Vouchers and Crime Correlated; Expect Media Indifference

Give Hanna Rosin at The Atlantic Online credit for investigating something most journalists wouldn't even think of touching. Her article is a long read, but an important one.

Rosin's report out of Memphis (HT Instapundit) chronicles how a criminologist husband and his housing-expert wife made a correlation that makes so much sense, you just know it will encounter fierce resistance from media and political elites (bolds are mine):

(Richard) Janikowski might not have managed to pinpoint the cause of this pattern (of spreading crime) if he hadn’t been married to Phyllis Betts, a housing expert at the University of Memphis. ..... Betts had been evaluating the impact of one of the city government’s most ambitious initiatives: 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. Memphis demolished its first project in 1997. The city gave former residents federal “Section 8” rent-subsidy vouchers and encouraged them to move out to new neighborhoods. Two more waves of demolition followed over the next nine years, dispersing tens of thousands of poor people into the wider metro community.

If police departments are usually stingy with their information, housing departments are even more so. Getting addresses of Section 8 holders is difficult, because the departments want to protect the residents’ privacy. Betts, however, helps the city track where the former residents of public housing have moved. Over time, she and Janikowski realized that they were doing their fieldwork in the same neighborhoods.

About six months ago, they decided to put a hunch to the test. Janikowski merged his computer map of crime patterns with Betts’s map of Section 8 rentals. ..... the match was near-perfect. On the merged map, dense violent-crime areas are shaded dark blue, and Section 8 addresses are represented by little red dots. All of the dark-blue areas are covered in little red dots, like bursts of gunfire. The rest of the city has almost no dots.

Betts remembers her discomfort as she looked at the map. The couple had been musing about the connection for months, but they were amazed—and deflated—to see how perfectly the two data sets fit together. She knew right away that this would be a “hard thing to say or write.” Nobody in the antipoverty community and nobody in city leadership was going to welcome the news that the noble experiment that they’d been engaged in for the past decade had been bringing the city down, in ways they’d never expected. But the connection was too obvious to ignore, and Betts and Janikowski figured that the same thing must be happening all around the country. Eventually, they thought, they’d find other researchers who connected the dots the way they had, and then maybe they could get city leaders, and even national leaders, to listen.

If the reaction of Robert Lipscomb, the head of the Memphis Housing Authority, is any indication, that's going to be a long slog:

“You’ve already marginalized people and told them they have to move out,” he told me irritably, just as he’s told Betts. “Now you’re saying they moved somewhere else and created all these problems? That’s a really, really unfair assessment. You’re putting a big burden on people who have been too burdened already, and to me that’s, quote-unquote, criminal.”

What's "quote-unquote, criminal" is that someone who sees the facts in front of his face (and I would surmise, really knows better) won't acknowledge their existence.

Old Media reports have typically made those objecting to Section 8 appear "racist" and "paranoid" for expressing concerns that it would spread out the crime problem. In Memphis, and I suspect elsewhere, it turns out that they had a point. Some opponents vilified in the press would seem to have an apology due them. Good luck getting it -- and in getting anyone else in Old Media interested in investigating the Section 8 crime-export problem elsewhere.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.