Does new home construction affect crime rate?

Alexander Fishkov, Ph.D. student Computer Science

In this post we will explore the relationship between crime rates and the development of residential areas; we want to see if the construction of new houses affects crime rate. Naturally, one would think that incoming new residents will attract more criminal elements to the area, but this may not always be the case.

We begin with residential development by looking at building permits issuing statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau. We compared annual reports for each state for the past two decades. It is visible from the map below that at the national level, the ranking of the states by number of permits issued stays roughly the same. The top three states are Florida, Texas and California; combined they make up between 25 to 30 percent of all the permits issued each year.

We took crime data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics or UCR. Since we have information about residential building permits, it is reasonable to look at specific crimes related to private property or material things. In the UCR they are collectively referred to as "Property crime." To account for population change we use the crime rate per 100,000 residents. In the graph below you can select a state to plot crime rate and the number of granted permits for that state.

You may notice that the two indicators perform similarly only for very few states. To asses this quantitatively, we calculate the Pearson correlation coefficient for each state.

The top states for this choropleth are Colorado, Alaska and Kansas; their correlation between crime rate and building permits granted for new houses reached higher than 0.8 with high confidence. Others didn't achieve this height in terms correlation coefficient, and for nearly half of the states we didn't get enough confidence for the estimates.

A notable counter-example to our hypothesis of crime increase with more new residents each year is the state of North Dakota. Even though the correlation coefficient's value is low, we have a low p-value and a negative sign. So indeed, an increase in new permits is followed by less crime, and vice versa.

Given this and the small sample size in our setting, we conclude that a high correlation between new houses construction and crime rate is not observed, with a few exceptions like Colorado, Alaska and Kansas and runner-ups Ohio and Rhode Island.

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About Alexander Fishkov

Alexander Fishkov, Ph.D. student Computer Science

Alexander is a Ph.D. student in Computer Science. He currently holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Applied Math. He has experience working for industry major companies performing research in the fields of machine learning, data mining and natural language processing. In his free time, Alexander enjoys hiking, Nordic skiing and traveling.

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One thought on “Does new home construction affect crime rate?”

  1. Obviously there will be an increase in property crime with new construction: theft of building material from sites. Also buyers of new homes tend to be more affluent and thus there is more to steal. Perhaps even the households occupying newer homes are more likely to have teenagers, more likely to commit property crimes. It is more a surprise the correlation is so low.

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