rom the tough streets of Oakland, where so many of Alice Payne’s relatives and friends had been shot to death, the newspaper advertisement for a federally assisted rental property in this Northern California suburb was like a bridge across the River Jordan.
Ms. Payne, a 42-year-old African-American mother of five, moved to Antioch in 2006. With the local real estate market slowing and a housing voucher covering two-thirds of the rent, she found she could afford a large, new home, with a pool, for $2,200 a month.
But old problems persisted. When her estranged husband was arrested, the local housing authority tried to cut off her subsidy, citing disturbances at her house. Then the police threatened to prosecute her landlord for any criminal activity or public nuisances caused by the family. The landlord forced the Paynes to leave when their lease was up.
Under the Section 8 federal housing voucher program, thousands of poor, urban and often African-American residents have left hardscrabble neighborhoods in the nation’s largest cities and resettled in the suburbs.
Law enforcement experts and housing researchers argue that rising crime rates follow Section 8 recipients to their new homes, while other experts discount any direct link. But there is little doubt that cultural shock waves have followed the migration. Social and racial tensions between newcomers and their neighbors have increased, forcing suburban communities like Antioch to re-evaluate their civic identities along with their methods of dealing with the new residents.
Why is crime rising in so many American cities? The answer implicates one of the most celebrated antipoverty programs of recent decades by Hanna Rosin @ the Atlantic Monthly:
Lately, though, a new and unexpected pattern has emerged, taking criminologists by surprise. While crime rates in large cities stayed flat, homicide rates in many midsize cities (with populations of between 500,000 and 1 million) began increasing, sometimes by as much as 20percent a year. In 2006, the Police Executive Research Forum, a national police group surveying cities from coast to coast, concluded in a report called “A Gathering Storm” that this might represent “the front end … of an epidemic of violence not seen for years.” The leaders of the group, which is made up of police chiefs and sheriffs, theorized about what might be spurring the latest crime wave: the spread of gangs, the masses of offenders coming out of prison, methamphetamines. But mostly they puzzled over the bleak new landscape. According to FBI data, America’s most dangerous spots are now places where Martin Scorsese would never think of staging a shoot-out–Florence, South Carolina; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Reading, Pennsylvania; Orlando, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee.
Memphis has always been associated with some amount of violence. But why has Elvis’s hometown turned into America’s new South Bronx? Barnes thinks he knows one big part of the answer, as does the city’s chief of police. A handful of local criminologists and social scientists think they can explain it, too. But it’s a dismal answer, one that city leaders have made clear they don’t want to hear. It’s an answer that offers up racial stereotypes to fearful whites in a city trying to move beyond racial tensions. Ultimately, it reaches beyond crime and implicates one of the most ambitious antipoverty programs of recent decades.