Do Home Repairs Have the Potential to Reduce Crime in Cities Like Philadelphia?

In late August, 2021, an article written by Susan Pinker titled “Fighting Crime with Home Renovations” was featured in the Wall Street Journal. The article explored the findings of a recent study that had been conducted to explore the associations between structural housing repairs and crime rates in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods. The study, which analyzed over 13,000 houses on over 6,700 blocks in Philadelphia, found that housing repair intervention correlated with a 21.9% reduction in crime on blocks that had received such repairs, in comparison to blocks with houses on the waiting list for repairs. According to the study, “The results suggest that structural, scalable, and sustainable place-based interventions should be considered by policy makers who seek to address crime through non–police interventions.” Unlike the harmful and racist policies born from “broken window” theory, which suggests that increased policing in disinvested areas leads to a reduction in crimes, the findings from this study indicate that repairing homes, and empowering community members, may be a more equitable, sustainable, and effective strategy in crime reduction. 

From the Wall Street Journal,

“From the city’s perspective, there are multiple social costs when a house becomes uninhabitable and vacant,” said Vincent Reina, an Associate Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the study’s authors. “A vacant house becomes a vacant lot. Historically there has been a lack of investment in communities of color. So we asked, what does this small investment do?”

Based on the findings of this study, that small investment has the potential to reduce crime rates in Philadelphia, which has been facing an overall increase in the number of crimes in recent years. Further, these investments in housing repair have the potential to preserve affordable housing across the city and protect the health of those who are receiving said repairs. For example, the Healthy Rowhouse Project found inexpensive repairs that removed asthma triggers from the home reduced related hospitalizations by up to 70% over a six month period. The project also found that 15-30 homes could be repaired and preserved for the same cost as constructing a newly built affordable housing unit for a single family. By investing in home repair, and home repair programs like Restore, Repair, Renew and Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, cities may be able to tackle some of the long standing issues and inequities that have been plaguing our communities.