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Demolishing homes in Detroit decreases gun violence, says U-M study

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The study found an 11 percent drop in homicides and injuries caused by firearms in areas with demolitions

An excavator sits at the site of a house demolition in Detroit. There’s dirt and fallen trees around the brick house, which has no windows or doors.
A house in Detroit being demolished

Detroit’s demolition program has faced its share of criticism. But a new study shows that it’s also produced positive results. A collaboration between the University of Michigan and Harvard University, the study found a correlation between home demolitions and a decrease firearm violence.

For years, thousands of Detroit homes were abandoned due to out-migration and foreclosure. Many had deteriorated to a point where they could no longer be saved. In recent years, the city of Detroit and community groups like Detroit Blight Busters have worked to tear down these homes to decrease blight in the city, but also out of the belief that it would decrease crime.

The new study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine seems to back up these claims. It found that there was an 11 percent drop in homicides and injuries caused by firearms in areas where demolitions took place. The authors also found that, up to a certain point, the more demolitions there were in an area, the greater the drop.

One of the study’s authors, Marc Zimmerman of the U-M School of Public Health, said that there are intangible benefits to demolitions as well, as they make residents feel that the neighborhood is being cared for.

“The process of cleaning up neighborhoods can be infectious for creating optimistic feelings and perceptions about the neighborhood, which is a vital first step in making a street busy with positive social interactions,” Zimmerman said in a release.

Other notable findings from the study are that in areas where more than 12 demolitions took place there wasn’t a significant reduction in crime, and also that the strongest correlations occurred in areas with the highest concentrations of non-Hispanic white residents.

“The largest effect might come from dispersing the demolition effort throughout the city, rather than concentrating the effort on removing all abandoned structures in a few areas, given limited resources,” said co-author Jonathan Jay, a scholar with the Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens coalition based at U-M.