Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

121P Making Public Housing Safer: Examining the Predictors of Perceived Safety In Public Housing Communities

Saturday, January 14, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Ronald Pitner, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Darcy Freedman, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Bethany Bell, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Background and Purpose: Which variables best predict residents' perception of neighborhood safety? While some research suggests that the increased presence of physical incivilities (e.g., abandoned buildings, debris in the street, dilapidated buildings) and social incivilities (e.g., gang activity, people loitering) are strong predictors of perceptions of safety, other research suggests that communal factors such as collective efficacy and sense of community are stronger predictors. Taken together, this research has contributed significantly to how we conceptualize and design interventions that are focused on promoting neighborhood safety. What is often missing, however, is a specific focus on promoting safety in public housing communities. There is very limited information on the factors that best predict perceptions of neighborhood safety in public housing communities. Accordingly, very few intervention strategies designed to promote safety among public housing residents exist. The goal of this research was to examine which variables best predict public housing residents' perceptions of neighborhood safety.

Methods: This study was conducted in 2 public housing communities located in a midsize, Southern city. Participants were randomly selected to complete a survey that focused on neighborhood safety, resident engagement, and other neighborhood-related issues. A total of 141 residents (91 in one community and 50 in the other) participated in this study. Overall, 98.6% of the participants were African American; the majority were female (88.7%); 80.1% had annual incomes under $10,000; and 56.7% had high school diplomas or some college education. The average age of participants was 39 (range, 18-83). On average, participants lived in their neighborhoods for 6 years. A multiple regression analysis was conducted to determine which variables best predict residents' perception of neighborhood safety. Perception of neighborhood safety was a composite score, where higher scores indicated greater concerns about neighborhood safety. Predictor variables were collective efficacy (i.e., social cohesion [alpha =.80] and social control [alpha=.78], perceived incivilities (i.e., physical [alpha=.84] and social [alpha=.85]), sense of community (alpha=.83), and demographic variables (i.e., length of residency, age, educational level, and public housing community [urban/suburban]).

Results: Among public housing residents in this study, higher levels of neighborhood safety concerns were associated with higher levels of perceived physical and social incivilities, and with lower levels of social control, social cohesion, and sense of community. Results of a multiple linear regression analysis [F (9, 131) =10.81; p<.001, R-square = .4262, Adjusted R-square = .3868] showed four significant predictors of neighborhood safety concerns: social incivilities (beta=.36, p=.003); sense of community (beta= -.30, p=.003); length of residency (beta=.17, p=.03); and urban public housing community (beta=.16, p= .04).

Conclusions and Implications: Our study helps elucidate what best predicts public housing residents' concerns about neighborhood safety. Unlike some previous research, our findings suggest that collective efficacy was not a predictor of residents' perceptions of neighborhood safety while controlling for the other variables in our model. We discuss our findings in terms of the need for intervention efforts to take into account the specific social dynamics of public housing communities.