Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Gathering Storm - Foreclosures Stimulate Crime?

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I just read a study that Lynn Clark and Brent Teasdale presented at a 2005 Toronto conference predicting how subprime loans and mortgage foreclosures might increase crime. They described how high rates of home foreclosure in one city can cause disinvestment in a neighborhood by the municipality and remaining residents. This apparently led to higher crime rates.

I’m not surprised home ownership and neighborhood tenure turns out to be one important chapter in the urban crime story. But more worrying is this: What happens to thousands of at-risk neighborhoods when we multiply that story hundredfold in today's market crash? A few years ago I read a study called A Gathering Storm: Violent Crime in America that predicted just such higher crime problems in years to come. If there was ever a time for a new way forward - now is the time!

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

  1. Although the sub-prime mortgage crisis is mainly a USA creation, from a Canadian viewpoint close to the 49th parallel, there are clear, unanticipated consequences for the growing number of foreclosures: properties will remain on the market unsold and unoccupied which lead to deterioration in maintenance. A domino effect is that multiple unsold properties in one neighborhood could trigger decay and provide too many examples of the “broken windows” theory. A decaying neighborhood, residential or commercial, will be a magnet for crime and this scenario could be multiplied in any typical city. The problems of housing the homeless on our streets could resolve itself in unwanted ways because squatters might exploit the opportunity by occupying empty properties. Unoccupied and unalarmed/unprotected business premises either side of a working business that has managed to survive would become major access points for criminals who could force their way into such a vacant business unseen from the street. Unemployment will rise and people who have traditionally been law-abiding might be drawn to the dark side out of sheer necessity to survive. A bleak picture all around and a challenge for everyone to strategize on ways and means of countering a huge problem that awaits us.

    Jeff Burton
    British Columbia Crime Prevention Association
    Burnaby, BC

  2. Very true Jeff - Canada has little to be smug about! And I think it can get much worse than squatters exploiting vacant properties. Consider Regina's North Central neighbourhood, Vancouver's downtown eastside, Toronto's Jane Finch, not to mention the deteriorating conditions of smaller Canadian downtowns like Prince George BC ... you have some pretty bleak pictures of what the future could look like.

    I just saw some social maps of Toronto's poorest neighbourhoods over the past 30 looks like a circle of malignant cancers overtaking the suburbs. And it's getting worse. Like I said, time for a new approach.


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