Public Housing Complexes vs. Housing Vouchers: What's Better?

Why Housing Vouchers Beat Public Housing Complexes

One of the biggest problems that cities have tried to deal with over the last 50 years is what to do with poor residents. There are conflicting ideas about what to do here and the main objective is to reduce crime. Starting around the 1950's, common logic was to build huge towers and place needy families together, think Cabrini Green in Chicago. In this scenario, police knew exactly where the dangerous area was and could step up patrols. Several decades later, these complexes began to be replaced increasingly with voucher systems. Poor residents could live anywhere in the city and became more spread out, but police worried that they would not know where to look for crime.

Cabrini Green, Chicago
It turns out that breaking apart these mega-complexes such as Cabrini Green has been a good things for urban poverty. Despite the fears of middle and upper class residents about their neighborhoods being "polluted" with vouchers, crime rates have declined in cities that have closed their housing complexes and here are some reasons why.

No More Black Holes: Black holes are my nickname for housing complexes because that is how they behave. They literally capture all that is bad in an area and concentrate it all in one place. If you live in a housing complex, you ARE the housing complex. You live in a dangerous environment and everyone that you know lives a similar lifestyle. You have no hope for rising out of the cycle of poverty and are trapped. Simply taking people out of these concentrated bad areas does a lot to improve chances for successful lives.

Break Up Gangs: Say we have two gangs that are fighting for control of a complex. Suddenly, the complex is torn down and residents are dispersed evenly throughout the huge city. Now there are no more gang territories and any theoretical gang concentrations are bisected by blocks of middle and upper class residents. Rather than cities falling into despair as people worried, gang violence actually calms down. Many people are in gangs because they can't escape; creating physical barriers is one huge deterrent to gang retention and formation.

Better Schools and Role Models: This one is most important for children that are growing up in poverty. Living in housing complexes they probably attend school with others like them and are likely surrounded by uneducated people. Moving into a more affluent area, they can attend better schools, receive more attention from teachers and seek to emulate students who may have more support systems at home. Instilling positive images and thoughts into a child is one way to increase his or her likelihood of rising out of poverty.