Reinvest Criminal Justice Spending in Affordable Housing

Reinvest Criminal Justice Spending in Affordable Housing

Reinvests money spent policing vulnerable populations to increase community stability.

Seattle (photo by authors)

What's the issue?

As cities gentrify, governments are increasingly likely to police people of color and the homeless, fearing that the presence of such people in public spaces will discourage higher-income residents moving into the community. Katherine Beckett and Steve Herbert address this phenomenon in their book Banished: The New Social Control in Urban America, which explores the arrest and banishment of poor and homeless people of color from large swaths of Seattle as a result of non-violent offenses such as loitering or drinking in a public park. Cities spend enormous amounts of money policing and jailing poor communities for such non-violent offenses. By enabling ostracized people to access housing and supportive services, cities would increase quality of life for underprivileged groups and reduce alienation of these already ostracized communities.

How can the reallocation of criminal justice spending toward affordable housing help?

We propose that a city should reinvest half the general funding granted to criminal justice and public safety in affordable housing construction programs, especially supportive housing. If even a small city which spends $70 million annually on criminal justice and public safety followed this policy, they could completely finance building 100 units affordable to the lowest income renters every year, more if other sources of funding are available (based on an estimate of $300,000 per unit, Urban Institute).


John Bae, Kate Finley, Margaret diZerega, and Sharon Kim, "Opening Doors: How to Develop Reentry Programs Using Examples from Public Housing Authorities," Very Institute of Justice Center on Sentencing and Corrections, 2017.

When and where does this policy work best?

This policy works best for cities that currently use a lot of their funding for criminal justice.

Works best for neighborhoods in middle-stage gentrification

Works best when neighborhoods have...

What are some possible problems and how can we address them?

There is likely to be some political pushback for such a massive reallocation of resources. However, a city can argue that providing a stable home environment and permanent support to the homeless nips “undesirable” activity in the bud and reduces the need for criminal justice spending.