When I bought this house eight years ago, I was handed a sheaf of disclosure statements, which covered everything from the date of installation of major systems to the predicted extent of flood waters should Deep Fork Creek, which runs through the southern end of the neighborhood, run out of its concrete-lined banks. (My conclusion, though not theirs: I shouldn't lose any sleep over the possibility.) Conspicuous by its absence was any assessment, by the seller, the inspector, the appraiser, or anyone, as to the existing crime rate in the area.
According to the guidelines of the Fair Housing Act and preventing blockbusting, real estate agents are not supposed to discuss the crime statistics of a particular area.
Wikipedia suggests that "blockbusting" may have originated in Chicago, and details what may have been a typical operation:
[I]n order to accelerate the emigration of economically successful racial, ethnic, and religious minority residents to better neighborhoods beyond the ghettos, real estate companies and building developers used agents provocateurs non-white people hired to deceive the white residents of a neighborhood into believing that black people were moving into the neighborhood, thereby encouraging them to quickly sell (at a loss) and emigrate to generally more racially homogeneous suburbs.
If there's one guaranteed-effective way to scare a property owner, it's to threaten even to appear to threaten property values. Shenanigans at this level have been illegal for some time, and good riddance. Still, avoiding the appearance of blockbusting has metamorphosed into avoiding the subject of neighborhood crime altogether.
And Eric Scheie asks: "If a neighborhood is unsafe, isn't that just as relevant as whether defects in the house make it unsafe?" Maybe not. These days, apparently the only thing that matters is lead paint.
Local police vary in the amount of assistance they can provide in this matter. In St. Petersburg, the amount appears to be zero:
A veteran officer with a clean record is being investigated by the St. Petersburg Police Department (SPPD) after he warned the father of a robbery victim about a dangerous part of town... The department launched an investigation into "disparaging comments against the city."
"At the rate things are going," says Scheie, "crime statistics will soon be classified information."
Here in Oklahoma City, there's a bit more information forthcoming. The OCPD sends weekly reports to the Neighborhood Alliance, which makes them available on their Web site and to participating neighborhood associations, although as a rule the reports run about 30 days behind the actual incidents. In addition, an officer from OCPD visits us about once a year with an overview. The one problem with this system, apart from the time delay, is that the city's designated reporting boundaries don't necessarily correspond with the boundaries of a neighborhood. In one recent week, three incidents were listed for my area, though the actual locations were actually outside of our designated area, and one of them was at the subluxurious Hotel Methedrine on I-44, which is on the boundary of the city's reporting zone but a good four blocks south of us. (It's even south of Deep Fork Creek.)
In eight years, I've heard a few tales: cars broken into, a burglary or two, and when the house next door was vacant for an extended period, thieves dismantled the outdoor air-conditioning unit for scrap metal. And someone snatched a purse way across town, and somehow it landed under one of my evergreens. None of these things could exactly be said to be encouraging, but there are parts of town that are substantially worse. I'm not going to tell you where those parts are, however, lest the Professional Complainer Class come after me.
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Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill