Hot spots of crime in Raleigh and home buying

So my realtor, Ellen Pitts (who is highly recommended, helped us a ton remotely moving into Raleigh), has a YouTube channel where she talks about real estate trends. Her most recent video she discussed a bit about crime in Raleigh relative to other cities because of the most recent shooting.

My criminologist hot take is that generally most cities in the US are relatively low crime. So Ellen shows Dallas has quite a few more per-capita shootings than Raleigh, but Dallas is quite safe “overall”. Probably somewhat contra to what most people think, the cities that in my opinion really have the most crime problems tend to be smaller rust belt cities. I love Troy, NY (where I was a crime analyst for a few years), but Troy is quite a bit rougher around the edges than Raleigh or Dallas.

So this post is more about, you have already chosen to move to Raleigh – if I am comparing house 1 and house 2 (or looking at general neighborhoods), do I need to worry about crime in this specific location?

So for a few specific resources/strategies for the home hunter. Not just in Raleigh, but many cities now have an open data portal. You can often look at crime. Here is an example with the Raleigh open data:

So if you have a specific address in mind, you can go and see the recent crime around that location (cities often fuzz the address a bit, so the actual points are just nearby on that block of the street). Blue dots in that screenshot are recent crimes in 2022 against people (you can click on each dot and get a more specific breakdown). Be prepared when you do this – crime is everywhere. But that said the vast majority of minor crime incidents should not deter you from buying a house or renting at a particular location.

Note I recommend looking at actual crime data (points on a map) for this. Several vendors release crime stats aggregated to neighborhoods or zipcodes, but these are of very low quality. (Often they “make up” data when it doesn’t exist, and when data does exist they don’t have a real great way to rank areas of low or high crime.)

For the more high level, should I worry about this neighborhood, I made an interactive hotspot map.

For the methodology, I focused on crimes that I would personally be concerned with as a homeowner. If I pull larceny crimes, I am sure the Target in North Hills would be a hotspot (but I would totally buy a condo in North Hills). So this pulls the recent crime data from Raleigh open data starting in 2020, but scoops up aggravated assaults, interpersonal robberies, weapon violations, and residential burglaries. Folks may be concerned about drug incidents and breaking into cars as well, but my experience those also do not tend to be in residential areas. The python code to replicate the map is here.

Then I created DBScan clusters that had at least 34 crimes – so these areas average at least one of these crimes per month over the time period I sampled. Zooming in, even though I tried to filter for more potentially residential related crimes, you can see the majority of these hot spots of crime are commercial areas in Raleigh. So for example you can zoom in and check out the string of hot spots on Capital Blvd (and if you click a hot spot you can get breakdowns of specific crime stats I looked at):

Very few of these hot spots are in residential neighborhoods – most are in more commercial areas. So when considering looking at homes in Raleigh, there are very few spots I would worry about crime at all in the city when making a housing choice. If moving into a neighborhood with a higher proportion of renters I think is potentially more important long term signal than crime here in Raleigh.

Home buying and collective efficacy

With the recent large appreciation in home values, around 20% in the prior year, there have been an increase in private investors purchasing homes to rent out. Recent stories on this by Tyler Dukes and colleagues have collated open parcel data to identify the scope of these companies across all of North Carolina.

For bit of background, I tried to purchase a home in Plano, TX early 2018. Homes in our price range at that time were going in a single day and typically a few thousand over asking price.

Fast forward to early 2021, I am full remote data scientist instead of a professor, and kiddo is in online school. Even with the pay bump, housing competition was even worse in Plano at this point, so we knew we were likely going to have to move school districts to be able to purchase a home. So we decided to strike out, and ended up looking around Raleigh. Ended up quite quickly deciding to purchase a new build home in the suburb of Clayton (totally recommend our realtor, Ellen Pitts, her crew did quite a bit of work for us remotely).

I was lucky to get in then it appears – many of the new developments in the area are being heavily scooped up by these equity firms (and rent would be ~$600 more for my home than the mortgage). So I downloaded the public data Dukes put together, and loaded it into Excel to make a quick map of the properties.

For a NC state view, we have big clusters in Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh:

We can zoom in, and here is an overview of triangle area:

So you can see that inside the loop in Raleigh is pretty sparse, but many of the newer developments on the east side have many more of the private firm purchased houses. Charlotte is much more infilled with these private firms purchasing properties.

Zooming in even further to my town of Clayton, there is quite a bit of variance in the proportion of private vs residential purchases across various developments. My development is less than 50% of these purchases, several developments though appear almost 100% private purchased though. (This is not my home/neighborhood FYI.)

So what does this have to do with collective efficacy? Traditionally areas with higher home ownership have been associated with lower rates of crime. For not criminologists reading my blog, one of the most prominent criminological theories is that state actions only move the needle slightly on increasing/decreasing crime, people enforcing social norms is a bigger factor that explains high crime vs low crime areas. Places with people churning out more frequently – which occurs in areas with more renters – tend to have fewer people effectively keeping the peace. Because social scientists love to make up words, we call this concept collective efficacy.

Downloading and looking at this data, while I was mostly just interested in zooming into my neighborhood and seeing the infill of renters, sparked a criminological hypothesis: I expect neighborhoods with higher rates of private equity purchased housing in the long run to have higher rates of criminal behavior.

This hypothesis will be difficult to test in the wild. It is partially confounded with capital – those who buy their homes accumulate more wealth over time (again mortgage is quite a bit cheaper than rent, so even ignoring home value appreciation this is true). But the variance in the number of homes purchased by private equity firms in different areas makes me wonder if there is enough variation to do a reasonable research design to test my hypothesis, especially in the Charlotte area in say two or three years post a development being finished.