The Impact of Privatized Management in Urban Public Housing Communities: A Comparative Analysis of Perceived Crime, Neighborhood Problems, and Personal Safety

By Bowie, Stan L. | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, December 2001 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Privatized Management in Urban Public Housing Communities: A Comparative Analysis of Perceived Crime, Neighborhood Problems, and Personal Safety


Bowie, Stan L., Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare


A quasi-experimental design with non-equivalent groups assessed the impact of privatized management on crime and personal safety in large public housing communities in Miami, Florida. A randomly-selected sample (N = 503) of low-income African Americans living in 42 different housing "projects" were surveyed. Privatized sites had greater mean values for break-ins and thefts (m = 2.03, S.D. = 1.47, p<.01) and vacant apartment usage. Publicly-managed sites had higher mean values for shootings and violence (m = 2.52, S.D. = 1.67, p<.01). While there were no statistically significant differences in perceived personal safety, publicly-managed respondents expressed greater satisfaction with police services. Privatized management did not result in significantly more positive outcomes and social services utilization was associated with less violent crime. Implications are discussed for public housing crime, federal housing policy, and future research.

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The idea of "privatizing" state, local, and federal services has been a tradition in the United States for many years (Barnekov, Boyle, & Rich, 1989; Hays, 1994). Privatization occurs when government sectors transfer partial or full responsibility for a variety of public services to the private sector (Bendick, 1985). By using grants, purchase-of-service contracts, and different types of reimbursement mechanisms, a complex partnership was developed between governments and private, non-profit agencies to deliver a wide range of human services (Abramovitz, 1986; Gilbert, 1986; Salamon, 1993).

In the 1980s, the Reagan Administration ushered in an ideological shift toward a different type of privatization--that involving private, for-profit firms (Kamerman & Kahn, 1989). This new philosophy was crystallized when President Reagan appointed a Privatization Commission and subsequently integrated the philosophy into many of his Administration's operational and policy decisions (Reid, 1995). The assumption behind the thinking was that private firms would improve management and implementation based on a perception of market discipline, superior management skills, and the profit motive, characteristics which are supposedly lacking in the public sector (Van Horn, 1991). The 1990s were characterized by an accelerated momentum in the provision of public welfare services by for-profit firms (Netting, McMurtry, Kettner, & Martin, 1994; Salamon, 1993; Stoesz & Karger, 1994), including services such as hospitals, nursing homes, home health, child care, social services, and housing (Pack, 1991; Reid, 1995).

The current study examines privatized management of public housing ("projects") and its comparative impact on the incidence of crime, neighborhood problems, and personal safety as perceived by public housing residents. The research is based on a 4-year public housing privatization experiment conducted under the auspices of the Miami-Dade Housing Agency (MDHA), which is the official Public Housing Authority (PHA) for the City of Miami and unincorporated Miami-Dade County. The MDHA is also the 8th largest PHA in the United States with 20,653 family and elderly housing units under their jurisdiction countywide (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [USHUD], 1999). An independent research team was contracted by Miami-Dade County to do a comparative assessment on the impact of privatization and develop recommendations on the feasibility of the MDHA expanding the managerial scope of privatized property managers (Becker, Bowie, Dluhy, & Topinka, 1998). After going through an extensive competitive bidding process, the MDHA selected four national property management companies with good "track records" and considerable experience, and the firms were given maximum administrative and operational flexibility. The overall assessment was multi-faceted with an emphasis on cost-containment variables, but a major component of the study was an empirical examination of perceived crime, personal safety, and levels of satisfaction with police as perceived by public housing residents. …

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