As cities look for ways to reduce crime, new research indicates that investing in resident home repairs could help.
The research looked at the Basic Systems Repair Program in Philadephia. The program offered income-based assistance for home repairs to fix electrical, plumbing, heating, structural and roofing issues.
"It pushes away from the aesthetic arguments that have been made about investment and really brings us to the more structural view," said Vincent Reina, one of the researchers who studied the program. "The acknowledgment that real investments in the housing stock, and particularly ones that might not even be something that most people see are actually critical to the welfare of that unit, but also to neighborhoods more broadly."
Researchers analyzed more than 13,000 people who received grants for their homes, most of whom were Black or Latino. They found that city blocks where homes were repaired saw 22% less crime overall.
"It could be happening through a mechanism of someone feeling safer in their home and feeling more stable, and that translating to other investments they make or ability to make investments," Reina said. "It could be that that investment in that house leads to other public investments on that block, or leads to other people making investments and similarly on that block."
David Thomas, who leads the Basic Systems Repair Program, says repairs are also helping people have a healthier living situation.
He said before the pandemic, the group was getting about 300 calls a month for repairs. Now, they're getting about 500.
"I don't know where people would go right now in many respects," Thomas said. "You see, the homeless population has only increased, so if we're able to reduce that and mitigate those concerns, I think that's the value that me and my staff feel we bring each day."
The department conducts between 4,000 and 5,000 repairs a year. The work is paid for with a mix of federal and local funds.
Thomas believes the program can be replicated in other cities — but it would take a commitment from local governments.
"One of the things that makes this program unique, that we, unlike a lot of other programs, we are putting a lot of emphasis on oversight. So, rather than just giving money to a client and saying, 'Hey, go at it,'" Thomas said.
Reina says one investment can't solve all the problems facing a neighborhood, but he believes programs like the one in Philadelphia are a positive start.