The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Social Capital and Public Housing Residents' Perception of Neighborhood Safety

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 10:30 AM
Seabreeze 1 and 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* 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: The concept of social capital has been used by a variety of disciplines and applied across various social and health-related issues. In particular, numerous studies have examined the role that social capital plays in influencing neighborhood crime and safety. Sampson and Raudenbush’s (1999) seminal work on collective efficacy has been instrumental in the burgeoning scholarship focused on neighborhood safety and crime. For them, collective efficacy describes an individual component of social capital. More recently, Sampson and Graif (2009) suggested a need to examine neighborhood social capital from a broader, multi-component perspective that better captures the complexities of the social organization of neighborhoods. They identified 4 components of social capital that are conceptually and empirically distinct from one another: 1) collective efficacy, 2) local networks, 3) organizational intent, and 4) conduct norms. The purpose of this study was to examine how this multi-component construct predicted public housing residents’ perceptions of neighborhood safety. Because Sampson and Graif’s scale has not been used to examine perceptions of neighborhood safety, we did not posit any specific hypotheses. Rather, our goal was to examine what aspects of this multi-component construct predicted 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 63-item survey that focused on neighborhood safety, social capital, and demographic information. A total of 141 residents (91 in one public housing 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 series of multiple regression analyses were conducted to determine which components of social capital best predicted public housing residents’ perception of neighborhood safety.

Results: Although Sampson and Graif showed that local networks, organizational involvement, and conduct norms are important components of neighborhood social capital, these components were not strong predictors of public housing residents’ perceptions of neighborhood safety. Collective efficacy (β = 0.46; p < .001) was the only component that predicted residents’ perceptions of neighborhood safety. Moreover, some of the individual dimensions of collective efficacy played an important role in perceptions of safety. Higher levels of police efficacy (β = 0.21; p < .05) and greater attachment to one’s neighborhood (β = 0.39; p < .001) predicted higher perceptions of neighborhood safety.

Conclusions and Implications: It is important to understand residents’ perceptions of neighborhood safety in terms of the degree of neighborhood social capital. However, for public housing residents, it may be more important to frame perceptions of neighborhood safety in terms of components of collective efficacy rather than broad multi-component social capital constructs.