Score one for the broken-windows theory, that largely hypothetical correlation between vandalism and crime. Overall crime in the New York metropolitan area has declined in the past six years. So has the number of broken windows.
Of the five million homes and apartments counted in 2009, windows were reportedly broken in 23,500, compared with 156,900 in the 4.8 million counted six years earlier, the Census Bureau said this week.
“It appears to be a downward spiral,” said George L. Kelling, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and emeritus professor at Rutgers University who, along with James Q. Wilson, a fellow social scientist, first wrote about the broken-windows theory.
“Taking care of broken windows reduces crime; taking care of crime reduces broken windows,” Professor Kelling said.
The number of boarded-up windows in all housing declined to 16,600 from 54,000, and the number of residences where windows were protected with bars fell to 159,500 from 901,900.
The contrast over six years was even starker among occupied buildings: 9,800 of the 4.5 million residences reported broken windows in 2009, compared with 48,300 of the 4.4 million homes six years earlier.
The survey results were compiled from direct questions asked of residents across the New York metropolitan area. “Boarded-up windows” were defined as having been sealed off to protect against weather or entry. “Broken windows” means at least several broken or missing panes.
Comparing the volume of broken windows is just one variable in assessing crime, and any direct relation can change over time. Still, other answers to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Housing Survey for metropolitan New York (which includes New York City, Long Island and Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester Counties) buttressed the perception and the reality of declining crime.
Asked in 2009 whether there had been serious crime in their neighborhood in the past 12 months, 3.7 million households said no. In 2003, 332,600 said crime was not a concern.
In 2009, 91 percent said they were satisfied with police protection, compared with 73 percent in 2003. One reason may be that the number of housing units in gated communities more than doubled.
The housing surveys provide other measures of housing quality. In 2009, 418,000 home and apartment dwellers had found signs of rats or mice in the previous three months, compared with 680,000 in 2003.
The median square footage of homes and apartments declined by 39 square feet, to 2,000 square feet. But the square feet per person rose to 750 from 673 (perhaps as a result of more people living alone).
Still, slightly more homes were described as overcrowded, usually calculated at 1.51 or more people per room. There were 49,700 such homes in 2009, compared with about 44,900 in 2003.
In the latest survey, residents were more likely to lack complete kitchen and plumbing facilities and more likely to report severe physical problems with their homes, but were also more likely to have central air-conditioning (fewer reported having been uncomfortably cold for 24 hours or more in the previous winter).
Half as many people complained about litter, more complained about street noise (neighbors, too, were louder than in 2003, but less bothersome) and traffic, and fewer complained about odors and unsatisfactory public elementary schools.
In 2009, nearly 40 percent of people who moved in the previous year said they were now in a better neighborhood. About 30 percent said so in 2003.
Median monthly housing costs were higher in 2009 ($1,517 for owners, $1,019 for renters), and households were paying a higher share of their incomes for housing. Homeowners in 13 counties in northern New Jersey paid a median of $1,801 in monthly housing costs in 2009, compared with $1,078 for renters.
Whites were a little more likely to own rather than to rent their homes, blacks were about twice as likely to rent, and Hispanics were nearly four times as likely to rent than to own.