HUD Archives: News Releases

HUD No. 00-32
Further Information:For Release
In the Washington, DC area: 202/708-0685Wednesday
Or contact your local HUD officeFebruary 16, 1999


In The Crossfire: The Impact of Gun Violence on Public Housing Communities

WASHINGTON - Crime is falling in public housing developments around the nation, but the 2.6 million Americans living in public housing are more than twice as likely to become victims of gun violence as the rest of the population, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development report released today by President Clinton.

The report shows for the first time that an estimated 10 out of every 1,000 residents of public housing are victimized annually by violent gun crimes, compared with 4 out of every 1,000 people in the nation as a whole.

"We've succeeded in driving down crime and gun violence around the nation to make families safer, but our job isn't finished," President Clinton said. "Now we have an obligation to take common-sense steps that are long overdue to save still more lives and reduce gun violence even further, especially in places hit hardest by this problem."

"The lives of children in our struggling inner cities are just as precious as the lives of children in our prosperous suburbs," said HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. "This report tells us that HUD needs to do more to reduce gun violence that kills, maims and terrorizes far too many innocent victims in public housing."

The new HUD study - called In The Crossfire: The Impact of Gun Violence on Public Housing Communities - also found that:

  • Gun violence poses a threat to public housing residents in cities of all sizes.
  • Besides crimes committed with guns, gun accidents and suicides take a heavy toll in public housing and in the rest of the nation.
  • Public housing authorities around the country have spent significantly more than $4 billion in HUD funds on crime reduction and prevention since 1990 to deal with gun violence and other crimes.
  • Fear of gun violence and other crime can lead to neighborhood decline.

The United States Housing Act of 1937 established a federal commitment to provide "decent, safe, and sanitary" housing for low-income families. As part of this responsibility, HUD is charged with maintaining secure and livable public housing communities.

HUD provides funding to 3,200 public housing authorities around the nation that run more than 1.12 million units of public housing units in 14,000 developments. Children and senior citizens make up about half the residents of public housing. The average household income of public housing residents is about $9,500 annually.

Here are the six key findings of the HUD report:

# 1: Across the nation, public housing has experienced declining crime rates. Indeed, many housing authorities have seen greater reductions in crime rates than the cities in which they are located. An analysis of detailed crime-trend data for 55 public housing authorities receiving HUD Public Housing Drug Elimination Program funds found that the crime rate declined in two-thirds of the authorities analyzed between 1994 and 1997. Sixty percent of public housing authorities with available data saw their crime rate decline faster than their surrounding municipality. Crime declined in four public housing authorities despite crime rate increases within the surrounding municipality.

# 2: Despite the overall progress, gun-related crime remains a serious problem in public housing. People living in public housing are over twice as likely to suffer from firearm-related victimization as other members of the population. There is a strong correlation between income and violent crime; thus, the low-income population in public housing is especially vulnerable to gun violence. Gun violence poses a direct threat to the 2.6 million residents of public housing - including more than 1 million children and 360,000 elderly residents. In 1998, there were an estimated 360 gun-related homicides in 66 of the nation's 100 largest public housing authorities - an average of nearly one gun-related homicide per day. The problem of gun violence, however, is not confined to the largest public housing authorities. In a larger group of more than 550 housing authorities, there were an estimated 296 gun-related homicides in public housing authorities across the country in the first six months of 1999 alone.

# 3: Gun violence poses a threat to public housing residents in cities of all sizes. In fact, residents of public housing in smaller and medium-sized metropolitan areas experienced rates of gun violence similar to those in larger metropolitan areas. According to preliminary analysis of newly available data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, residents of public housing in metro areas of less than 500,000 residents have the same or higher rates of gun violence victimization as public housing residents in larger metro areas with more than 1 million residents. Moreover, public housing residents in smaller-sized metro areas experience higher rates of firearm victimization relative to non-public housing residents in their metro areas than the equivalent ratio for public housing residents in larger metro areas.

# 4: Beyond crime and violence, firearms are a significant source of physical and financial damage in American communities. Nationally, there were 18,500 unintentional injuries, 1,400 unintentional deaths, and 17,566 suicides caused by firearms in 1997 alone. While there are limited data available showing similar rates of unintentional injuries, deaths, and suicides in public housing, it is estimated that nearly 200 unintentional injuries occur in public housing communities each year. Numerous examples of accidental shootings and unintended weapon discharges indicate the prevalence of this problem.

# 5: In response to the growing recognition of the need for improved safety for residents, public housing authorities have spent well over $4 billion in HUD funds on crime reduction and prevention efforts since 1990. These expenditures have diverted limited budgets from affordable housing, modernization, and capital needs.

# 6: The damage imposed by gun violence goes beyond the lives lost and injuries inflicted. Often, children exposed to gun violence present symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder similar to those observed in children exposed to war and major disasters. In a recent study of large public housing authorities, one in five residents reported feeling unsafe in their neighborhood. Exposure to gun violence can shatter feelings of safety and security as well.

The HUD study analyzed new crime data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, with data collected by the Census Bureau for the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Data was also extracted from HUD's Public Housing Drug Elimination Program, including narrative reports and HUD's new Semi-Annual Performance Reporting System that examined crime and gun-violence patterns in 100 of the largest public housing authorities.

Cuomo was joined at a discussion of the report today by these people who have experience with gun violence: 1) New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed and whose son was seriously wounded by a gunman on the Long Island Rail Road. 2) Baltimore Housing Authority Police Chief Hezekiah Bunch. 3) Namel Norris, 19, and his mother Vanessa, who live in public housing in the Bronx in New York City. Namel Norris was accidentally shot during a party for his sister last year and is now paralyzed from the chest down.

The largest source of federal funding for anti-crime programs in public housing is the Public Housing Drug Elimination Program established by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988. The program provides funds for a wide variety of anti-drug and anti-crime initiatives, such as: employment of security personnel and investigators; reimbursement of local law enforcement agencies for additional security; resident patrols; drug- and crime-prevention programs; and other measures.

President Clinton's Fiscal Year 2001 budget includes a $35 million increase in HUD's Public Housing Drug Elimination Program, boosting funding for the program to $345 million. This funding increase would support:

  • An increase in formula grants to support local anti-crime strategies, including an increased law enforcement presence, community policing, increased security personnel, coordinated resident patrols, physical security improvements and youth crime prevention programs.

  • The Community Gun Safety and Violence Reduction Initiative. The initiative, which would be administered by HUD, would fund computerized mapping of gun violence to help law enforcement agencies better protect the public, education and outreach programs to promote responsible safety measures by gun owners, and innovative community activities to reduce both gun crimes and accidents. If Congress approves funding for the initiative, local governments, law enforcement agencies, public housing authorities, and community organizations would be eligible to compete for HUD grants to support gun violence reduction activities in the communities the Department serves.

  • Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, which will help public housing authorities incorporate architectural design features in developments to promote safety and security.

In addition, the President's budget includes a $280 million national firearms enforcement initiative. The initiative would hire 500 new ATF agents and inspectors to target gun criminals, hire more than 1,000 prosecutors at all levels of government, fund new gun tracing and ballistics testing systems to catch more gun criminals, fund local media campaigns to discourage gun violence, and expand the development of "smart gun" technologies.

The Clinton Administration is also calling for negotiations with gun manufacturers to seek changes in the design, distribution and marketing of guns. If the negotiations fail, the Administration could support a class-action lawsuit by the nation's public housing authorities against the gun manufacturers.

Content Archived: December 13, 2009