Public Housing Safety Initiative

Victoria Titterington

Victoria Titterington recently completed service as the Program Evaluator for a two-year Public Housing Safety Initiative (PHSI) grant from the Community Capacity Development Office of the USDOJ Office of Justice Programs. Houston (as the major city within the U.S. Attorney's Southern District of Texas Office) was one of 19 sites nationwide that received these grants, aimed at "providing funding for the investigation, prosecution, and prevention of violent crime and drug offense activities in public, federally-assisted, and Indian housing." The Urban Institute also worked with grantees to develop performance measures that could be used to track progress toward their stated goals and to document the long-term impact of the PHSI.

The Houston Public Housing Safety Initiative focused on three public housingdevelopments (Kelly Village, Cuney Homes, and Kennedy Place), located in Houston'sFifth Ward, northeast and south of downtown. During the one-year period preceding the grant, the rates of violent Part I crime for the targeted public housing developments ranged from 3.2 to 6.3 times the citywide rate; during the same period the rates of non-violent Part I crime for the targeted developments ranged from 1.3 to 2.2 times the citywide rate. Also, the rate of calls for service for these areas ranged from 2.4 to 4.0 times the citywide rate.

The approach of this initiative was uniquely comprehensive in that it included both targeted law enforcement as well as community development activities and outcomes. Among the numerous activities within this effort were: (1)"high visibility" patrols focused particularly on prostitution and narcotics in and around the three public housing complexes, (2) domestic abuse prevention classes for resident juvenile females, (3) DEA sponsored classes on prescription drug abuse among juveniles, for grandparents raising their grandchildren within these housing units, and (4) tours of university campuses (including Sam Houston State University and our College of Criminal Justice) by high-risk juveniles, with the hope of prolonging their education through high school and beyond.

Both violent and non-violent crime rates decreased at two of the housing developments (Kelly Village and Kennedy Place) during the major law enforcement period of the grant, with an 11 percent decrease in violent crime and a 30 percent decrease in property crime. The Cuney Homes crime data showed an overall increase in officially reported crime during the major law enforcement period, thought to be accounted for by increased citizen reports of crime to the police, a positive rather than negative outcome. Over the course of ongoing law enforcement/housing residents meetings, residents reported that they are now more willing to speak to police because they actually know some of them individually and believe that law enforcement will respond more quickly to reports from residents.

Dr. Titterington's observations are that "this has been one of the most positive projects with which I've been involved, because of its broad scope and the grassroots citizen, service provider, law enforcement collaboration. I was continually struck by how much, given the resources, each of these stakeholders invested in improving the immediate and long-term conditions of living for the residents of Kennedy, Kelly, and Cuney."

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