Home Alarm: Spiking Homicide Rates in Philadelphia Could Partly Be Housing Issue, Rutgers–Camden Research Shows

Jan. 19, 2022

By Tom McLaughlin

The statistics are grim: Philadelphia had more than 500 homicides in 2021, making it the deadliest year in the city’s history.

One part of the solution, Rutgers University–Camden research shows, could be close to home. Higher eviction rates in Philadelphia neighborhoods are linked to higher rates of crime, homicide and burglary in Philadelphia neighborhoods from 2006 to 2016, according to the Rutgers–Camden study, “Eviction and Crime: A Neighborhood Analysis in Philadelphia,” published in the journal Crime & Delinquency.

The COVID-19 pandemic, Semenza said, has further illustrated “a precarious fine line” that most households live on from day to day and month to month.

“We believe that the destabilizing effect that evictions have on households can happen throughout entire communities,” says Dan Semenza, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Rutgers–Camden and co-author of the paper.

Rutgers-Camden researchers took data on Philadelphia eviction rates and paired it with neighborhood crime rates provided by the Philadelphia Police Department and demographic data from the American Community Survey.

“You put all that data together and you start to get a better idea of the relationships between these different variables,” Semenza said.

According to Semenza, the researchers already knew from prior studies that households experience significant “fallout” from eviction in the form of negative impact on health and financial stability. The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, has further illustrated “a precarious fine line” that most households live on from day to day and month to month.

Semenza noted, public housing assistance continues to be a core weakness in Philadelphia and nationwide.

Despite these eye-opening findings, the housing situation in Philadelphia may get worse before it gets better. The city stopped accepting applications for its cash-strapped emergency rental assistance program on Jan. 7 but did extend its eviction diversion program, which requires property owners to participate in mediation with tenants prior to going to court.

Semenza noted, public housing assistance continues to be a core weakness in Philadelphia and nationwide. He believes additional evictions may further destabilize communities and potentially influence crime rates over time.

“With violent crime spiking in many cities, including Philadelphia, more evictions may cause further disruption beyond the already harmful effects of the pandemic,” Semenza said. “In terms of a safety net, a more permanent solution is needed, which means coming to grips with a lack of appropriate, affordable housing in many places in the country. The infrastructure for public housing is old and inadequate, and that has to change. Housing availability needs to be part of a big federal push and not just local dribs and drabs.”

Semenza’s co-authors for this study are Richard Stansfield, an associate professor of criminal justice at Rutgers–Camden; Nathan Link, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Rutgers–Camden; and Jessica Grosholz, an associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.

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