I live in a comfortable suburban Brunswick neighborhood. Our neighbors are nice, and we enjoy the area. When we moved into this house a few years ago, I joined to area Facebook page and Nextdoor page to keep up with lost dog posts, HOA announcements and the like.
Recently, there was a post on our Facebook page that announced that some rezoning signs had been spotted near our community grocery store. The rezoning signs indicated that a new 72-unit apartment or duplex complex may be coming to the area. This was followed by many comments and assumptions about what this would mean for our community.
Some of the assumptions included concerns that this rezoning almost certainly meant we would be getting “yet another section 8 housing complex.” This was followed by many opinions about such housing: it will lead to increased crime, the people living in this housing are (mostly, but not always, noted the commenter) looking for handouts and don’t want to work, and that this kind of housing will lead to overcrowding in our area. The final comments encouraged residents to come to the public meeting to voice these concerns.
I am, unequivocally, in favor of the last call to action. Yes, every citizen has a right to participate in their democratic process and be heard by their elected officials. But, what struck me was the assumptions that were being made about people who live in Section 8 housing specifically. Having only a general notion about exactly what Section 8 is, I thought I would do a little research to see if their policy concerns held any weight. Was there data to support their notions?
I started by simply looking into what Section 8 housing is. In short, The Brunswick Housing Authority administers this federally funded rental assistance program to help low income families secure affordable housing through the use of vouchers paid directly to landlords. These vouchers typically do not cover all of the tenant’s rent and do not include utilities. Here are some statistics on the average occupant in Glynn County that I obtained:
• Turnover rate: 20% annually.
• Average time voucher holder has received these benefits: 6 years, 11 months.
• Average household: 2.8 persons.
• Average household income: $13,113/year.
• Percent using welfare benefits as primary income source: 1%.
• Percent with other income source (disability, Social Security, or Pension): 44%.
• Head of Household: 25-49 (67%), 51 or older (27%).
• 70% of households have children — 68% headed by a woman only, 2% headed by two adults.
This indicates to me, that these vouchers are used to support the working poor, those with disabilities, the elderly in some cases and women supporting their children in many cases. The Brunswick Housing Authority also noted that applicants must be in good standing in terms of criminal history and financial obligations to the housing authority.
I then tried to look into this fear of increased crime as a result of such housing. I attempted to use the county GIS maps to help me answer this question, but quite simply did not have a strong enough command of the technology. Instead I had to look to more general data — scholarly articles. In particular, economist Dr. Paul Emrath synthesized data from 16 studies published after 2000 for the National Association of Home Builders. He found the following:
“In distressed neighborhoods, the basic findings were that building LIHTC housing increases surrounding property values and reduces crime rates. In high-opportunity neighborhoods, LIHTC housing has no effect on crime rates, either positive or negative, but a small negative impact on property values — although only within one-tenth of a mile and if the high-opportunity neighborhood also lacks racial diversity.”
Another 2019 study by Elena Derby found that each additional year a child spent in a housing credit home “is associated with a 3.5 percent increase in the likelihood of attending a higher education program for four years or more, and a 3.2 percent increase in future earnings.” As someone working in higher education, this statistic excited me.
In short, what my cursory research indicated:
1. This kind of housing can have a big impact on women and children in particular.
2. It is not likely to negatively affect my property value in a meaningful way.
3. It might just improve diversity in my area.
4. It is not likely to increase crime in my neighborhood.
5. It could, in some small way, improve higher education attainment for Glynn County children.
Unfortunately, I think the fears surrounding this rezoning are a typical case of NIMBYism (not in my backyard) rather than an indication of real threats.