Eviction and Crime: A Neighborhood Analysis in Philadelphia

In this study, we use generalized estimating equation (GEE) models to analyze how rates of eviction correspond to homicide, robbery, and burglary rates across all residential neighborhoods in Philadelphia from 2006 through 2016. We assess the moderating role of neighborhood poverty accounting for residential mobility, economic disadvantage, and community composition. We find that eviction is associated with all three types of crime in fully controlled models. Additionally, neighborhood poverty significantly moderates this relationship for robbery and burglary, but not homicide. We discuss the implications of these results with attention to policy opportunities to reduce eviction and suggestions for future research.

More than 2 million people are evicted from their homes each year in the United States (U.S.) (Desmond & Gershenson, 2016; Humphries et al., 2019). Since 2000, there has been an eviction filed for roughly every 17 renting households in the country, a rate that has remained largely stable for nearly two decades (Desmond, 2016). Philadelphia, the site of the present study, has the fourth highest eviction rate in the U.S. with more than 20,000 evictions filed annually against renters (Vitoulli & Parker, 2020). Across the country, eviction is a leading cause of residential instability and homelessness (Phinney et al., 2007), often forcing families to relocate to neighborhoods with poorer living conditions (Desmond & Shollenberger, 2015; Desmond et al., 2015). Critically, eviction disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities of color and plays a significant role in the perpetuation of urban poverty (Desmond, 2012, 2016; Hartman & Robinson, 2003; Teresa, 2018).

Although the individual and family fallout of eviction has been documented (Desmond & Gershenson, 2016; Desmond et al., 2013, 2015; Desmond & Kimbro, 2015; Hartman & Robinson, 2003), there remains notably limited research regarding the influence of eviction on neighborhood-level outcomes. In particular, no research has examined the association between eviction rates and community crime. As such, we draw on multiple data sources from the city of Philadelphia to examine the relationship between eviction and crime across 376 neighborhoods in the city from 2006 to 2016.

The present study advances existing literature on eviction and crime in two important ways. First, our analysis illustrates how housing policies designed to help families stay in their homes may concurrently reduce neighborhood crime. Relatedly, decreasing eviction may serve to reduce larger community inequalities by ameliorating the social, economic, and health consequences of high crime rates and persistent cycles of incarceration experienced especially by disadvantaged communities of color (Western & Wildeman, 2009). Second, we argue that eviction functions as a destabilizing force in communities via both forced hypermobility and the perpetuation of precarious community conditions due to unplanned housing instability that interrupts important neighborhood crime prevention processes. Thus, this research contributes not only to greater empirical knowledge of the eviction-crime relationship, but also to an improved theoretical understanding of how forced removal from housing affects crime in communities through contextual social processes that extend beyond impacts to individuals and their families.

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