VCU researchers connect neglected properties to violent crimes in most Richmond neighborhoods

Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 5:40 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A new VCU study reveals tax delinquent company-owned properties indicated violence in all but four of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

The study comes after a string of gun violence that has many residents and leaders looking for long-term solutions.

Psychology professor Dr. Samuel West was inspired to lead the project while finishing his studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

He often spoke with patients who were victims of crime in the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health.

“An issue that came up very frequently was housing,” West said. “Some folks had stories they were living in poor conditions, but they didn’t have the ability to do anything about it because they couldn’t afford to get a new place and their landlord was unresponsive,” he said.

He and his team of researchers studied homicide and assaults reported to Richmond police along with tax delinquent properties, population density, race, income, food stamps and alcohol outlets for each neighborhood.

“The tax delinquency of these company-owned properties accounted for far more variability in the violence observed in those communities,” West said.

He said landlords neglecting properties by failing to pay taxes on them is a big issue.

And when that happens, those properties are put up for auction leaving many neighborhoods without residential stability and susceptible to crime.

“Yes. Obviously, people who are doing violence are the ones that are actually being violent, but the environment is absolutely a critical factor,” he said.

While the cause of violence isn’t found in this study, West pointed out a program in a crime-ridden community in Philadelphia. It showed when neglected properties were put into the hands of community residents, violent crime dropped by 50%, within two years.

“And that was just in one neighborhood where they pulled that off. Now, obviously, that would be a huge undertaking, but to me, the evidence, at least in the city of Richmond, indicates that it’s one worth pursuing,” West said.

Bellevue, Carver, Malvern Gardens and Piney Knolls were the only communities where this trend wasn’t seen.

West said there are no laws in Virginia protecting tenants from eviction if their landlord loses their rental property to state auctions. He said if that changes we could see a change in crime as well.