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How to Create Safer Public Housing Projects

Despite their fearsome reputation, a new study finds most low-income housing projects aren't magnets for crime. What makes some more dangerous?
In this Oakland development, open stairways and ample lighting help create a sense of security.
In this Oakland development, open stairways and ample lighting help create a sense of security.Michael Pyatok

Ask lifelong San Antonio resident and activist Jason Mata about crime in low-income housing and he becomes animated. Several public housing projects sit in Prospect Hills, his West Side neighborhood, and safety there is a daily concern. “Every day I wake up, and half a block or maybe a block away, there’s 20 to 30 people congregating, drinking, selling drugs, prostitution,” said Mata, who is also president of his neighborhood association. “That’s what we see every day here.”

Scenes like the one Mata describes also form the prevailing media image of low-income housing developments. But a new study of San Antonio suggests that, despite its fearsome reputation, most low-income housing isn’t dangerous at all, either to residents or neighbors who live nearby. The great majority of crime in the city’s projects is concentrated in just a few high-risk developments.