Community Investments

Community Investments Vol 24, Issue 2
Research Briefs: Community Development and Education

Author(s): Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Summer 2012

Public Housing Transformation and Crime

The process of demolishing distressed public housing and relocating families using housing vouchers can have a wide range of effects at both the individual level (e.g., education outcomes and employment opportunities) and the neighborhood and regional level (e.g., property values and poverty concentration). A recent report from the Urban Institute explores the relationship between this kind of public housing transformation and crime rates at the neighborhood and city level in Chicago and Atlanta. Using data from HUD, Census, and local police departments, the researchers measured the effect of resident relocation on crime in destination and demolition neighborhoods.

Their analysis indicates that public housing transformation and resident relocation reduced crime citywide in both Chicago and Atlanta. In general, crime decreased in neighborhoods where public housing was demolished and in many neighborhoods where former public housing residents relocated. But in a small number of neighborhoods that received a relatively larger number of relocated families, crime decreased less than it would have if no former public housing residents relocated there. Overall, neighborhoods with a modest or high density of relocated residents experienced crime rates that were higher than those of areas without relocated residents.

The authors conclude that public housing transformation requires large-scale comprehensive relocation strategies in order to mitigate the potential challenges of transformation and relocation. They recommend that housing authorities provide intensive support for relocated residents in a wide range of communities and that local policy discourage the reconcentration of poverty in other vulnerable neighborhoods.


Popkin, S., Rich, M., Hendey, L., Hayes, C. and Parilla, J. (2012), Public Housing Transformation and Crime, Making the Case for Responsible Relocation. Urban Institute.

Metropolitan Fragmentation and Health Disparities

The term “metropolitan fragmentation” refers to the division of a metropolitan region into separate, distinct municipal districts, special service districts, and school districts. Proponents of metropolitan fragmentation argue that by dividing big metropolitan scale governments into smaller units, citizens will have greater access to effect change in their communities. Critics of fragmentation contend that the phenomenon creates exclusive special service districts that exacerbate fiscal inequities by siphoning resources away from low- and moderate-income communities.

A recent study investigates one facet of this issue: the possible relationship between metropolitan fragmentation and racial health disparities, as measured by mortality rates for blacks and whites. The authors use data from the U.S. Census of Government on the country’s largest 171 metropolitan statistical areas to count the total number of governments within each metropolitan area for the year 1997, and measure mortality rates using county data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study finds a relationship between increased metropolitan fragmentation and greater disparities in mortality rates between blacks and whites. Specifically, increasing fragmentation is associated with a higher mortality rate for blacks but not for whites. The authors indicate a need for further research to explore the interrelated forces behind metropolitan fragmentation, racial segregation, racism, and poverty. For future research, the authors propose investigating the governmental and institutional channels through which metropolitan fragmentation contributes to the differences between black and white mortality rates.

For practitioners, they suggest that increased collaboration between the fields of urban planning and public health could help to mitigate health disparities.


Hutson, M., Kaplan, G. A., Ranjit, N. and Mujahid, M. S. (2012), Metropolitan Fragmentation and Health Disparities: Is There a Link?. Milbank Quarterly, 90: 187–207.

Survey Reveals Changes in Family Finances

In June 2012, The Federal Reserve Board of Governors released key findings from its Survey of Consumer Finances, a report released every three years that tracks changes in the financial conditions of U.S. families. The survey reveals that median family income before taxes fell almost eight percent from 2007 to 2010. The decline in median income was widespread across demographic groups, with only a few groups reporting stable or rising incomes. Families living in the South and West regions experienced some of the greatest declines in median incomes.

Net worth declined by a greater percentage than income, with median net worth falling by almost 40 percent. Median net worth declined for families throughout the country, but most dramatically in the West, where median net worth fell by about 55 percent. This pattern reflects the collapse of housing markets in several regions in the West.

In addition to geography, the magnitude of net worth loss was also impacted by a family’s relative level of net worth. For example, the median net worth for a family in the lowest quartile fell 100 percent, from $1,300 to zero, while median net worth for a family in the second quartile fell by about 43 percent and by 11 percent for a family in the top decile.

The collapse of the housing market also explains differences in net worth declines for homeowners and renters. Between 2007 and 2010, the median net worth for homeowners fell by about 30 percent. Comparatively, the median net worth for renters fell by 5.6 percent.

From 2007 to 2010, financial assets rose as a share of families’ total assets, which was driven by the decline in house prices. At the same time, the homeownership rate, which had increased between the 2001 and 2004 surveys, continued to fall – roughly to the same level as in 2001.

Saving rates also changed between 2007 and 2010, with the share of families reporting saving over the previous year falling by about four percentage points. Families’ reasons for saving also changed. Fewer families said they were saving for retirement, education, or buying their own home. More families reported that their reason for saving was for liquidity to ensure they had enough cash to cover unexpected expenses. At the same time, the percentage of families using credit cards for borrowing dropped and the median balance on consumer credit card accounts fell 16 percent. The percent of families borrowing for education-related expenses increase from 15 to 19 percent, and the median balance of education-related debt increased about 3.5 percent (mean balance rose 14 percent). Finally, the percent of debtors with any payment 60 days or more past due increased from about 7 percent to almost 11 percent in 2010.


Bricker, J., Kennickell, A.B., Moore, K.B., and Sabelhaus, J. “Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2007 to 2010: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances.” Federal Reserve Bulletin (June 2012): Vol 98, No 2.

Other articles in this issue

CI Notebook

Community Development and Education: A Shared Future

The New Civic Infrastructure: The “How To” of Collective Impact and Getting a Better Social Return on Investment

Schools Uniting Neighborhoods: Community Schools Anchoring Local Change

The Widening Academic Achievement Gap between the Rich and the Poor

Looking Back and Moving Forward: Changes in the Affordable Multifamily Mortgage Industry

CDFI Industry Analysis: Summary Report

Data Snapshot: Education

Doctor CRA