Expert Commentary

Subsidized housing, public housing and adolescent violence and substance use

2012 study by Indiana University-Purdue University published in Youth & Society on public housing, violence and drug use among adolescents.

Public housing projects were once the norm in the United States, but their negative social and economic impacts led to the adoption of subsidized housing as the preferred alternative. While studies have confirmed the increased criminal activity and substance abuse in and around public housing, there is limited research on the behavior of the residents of public or subsidized housing, generally through vouchers.

A 2012 study by Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis published in Youth & Society, “Subsidized Housing, Public Housing and Adolescent Violence and Substance Use,” examines the connection between public or subsidized housing and illegal activities by adolescents. The study compiled data on drug use and violent behavior for 2,530 adolescents age 14 to 19 living with their mothers in either public housing projects or subsidized housing in 2002 and 2004, and compared those findings to data for adolescents not living in public housing during the same time period.

Key study findings include:

  • Teens living in housing subsidized by vouchers have a 9% lower violence rate, 8% lower prevalence of heavy marijuana or alcohol use, and a 5% decrease in other drug use compared to teens living in public housing projects and in non-public housing.
  • Adolescents living in public or subsidized housing were 31% less likely to engage in violent behavior compared to those living outside public housing.
  • No significant effect of living in public or subsidized housing was found relating to the use of alcohol, marijuana or hard drugs compared to similar teens not receiving housing assistance.
  • Approximately 64% of subsidized housing residents and 52% of public housing residents are Black or Hispanic; “a large majority of the teens live in urban areas.”
  • Mothers receiving housing assistance report higher high school dropout, unemployment and single parenting rates as well as lower household incomes than those living in non-subsidized housing.

The study results challenge the belief that youth in public housing are more likely to be violent or use drugs than their peers, the researcher states, and are consistent with previous findings on the positive social benefits of housing vouchers. “Teen violence and substance use at public housing complexes derives from teens [who live] outside the housing unit.”

Tags: youth, drugs, crime, African-American, Latino, Hispanic

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