Blight Abatement of Vacant Land and Crime in New Orleans

ABSTRACT [FROM JOURNAL]

Objectives: In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused damage in New Orleans, Louisiana, and much of the land in low-resource neighborhoods became vacant and blighted. In 2014, New Orleans launched a program, Fight the Blight, which remediated properties in 6 neighborhoods. Our objective was to examine changes in crime rates near lots that were remediated (ie, debris removed and vegetation mowed).

Methods: We used a quasi-experimental design to test whether crime rates changed from preremediation (January 2013–October 2014) to postremediation (July 2016–March 2017) near 204 vacant lots that were remediated compared with 560 control vacant lots that were not remediated between October 2014 and July 2016. We also examined differences between remediated lots that received 1 treatment (n = 64) and those that received ≥2 treatments (n = 140).

Results: We found no significant differences between remediated and control lots in levels of violent, property, and domestic crimes from preremediation to postremediation. However, the number of drug crimes per square mile decreased significantly near all remediated lots (5.7% lower; P < .001) compared with control lots, largely driven by the significant decrease (6.4% lower; P < .001) in drug crimes found near lots that received ≥2 treatments.

Conclusions: Investing in programs that improve neighborhood environments affected by high rates of physical disorder and vacancy may be a way to decrease violence. However, routine remediation may be needed to increase the public health impact of blight abatement programs in warmer climates, where weeds and vegetation grow rapidly.