The Criminal Price of Blight

January 25, 2017 by

The criminal cost of the abandoned warehouse with shattered windows that sits at the corner of your street has long been acknowledged but it wasn’t until recently that an economist attempted to put a price to that by pulling answers from municipal budgets and the private market. Using crime data to assess the criminal impact, fiscal and otherwise, of such blight can better guide cities and police departments on how to effectively manage budgets, allocate resources, and demonstrate the necessity of dealing with blighted areas.

This idea isn’t new, it’s the same reason many vacationers leave a light on, or on a timer, in their homes when they are gone for extended periods of a time: a visibly vacant home is a welcome mat for criminals.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development states that, “boarded doors, unkempt lawns, and broken windows can signal an unsupervised safe haven for criminal activity or a target for theft of, for example, copper and appliances,” and Texas has about 117,000 of these vacant houses.

Studies have shown that the foreclosure process can lead to a 10 percent increase in the number of reported crimes occurring within 250 feet of a foreclosed home. The act of foreclosure isn’t necessarily the cause of the increases in crime, but the vacancy associated with the process is the culprit.

This impact on neighborhood crime increases steadily for about twelve to eighteen months, before plateauing.

The National Institutes of Health issues a scale of costs per crime, and although every crime cannot be precisely quantified, it gives the public a general idea of the criminal cost associated with each act.

Using the average cost and then calculating for the percent increase in crime due to vacant houses, the study determined that a vacant house will result in violent crime cost increases of $3,500 per quarter, or $14,000 per year.

Further, a study by the City of Baltimore found that each vacant property resulted in an additional 445 minutes spent on these locations by police per year. For Baltimore, that equated to about $1,000 dollars per property, but those numbers change depending on the average salary of law enforcement in a specific city.

Overall, the added additional cost for the abandoned house down the street, according to the study, is $155,000 in its first year. That is the cost of police and fire for arson and crime, combined with the reduction in value of surrounding property.

Even if the reduction is negligible, dealing with these vacant properties would reduce crime for cities as well as costs associated with it.


About the Author

Charles operates the Houston office for Empower Texans/Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.