The Telegraph Herald reported that the city of Dubuque is about to stop its decade-long practice of tracking whether people arrested locally are receiving federal housing vouchers through the city.
These statistics have been kept during a rather turbulent 10-year period, marked by community debate regarding the correlation (if any) between crime and Section 8 participants, city efforts to modify and scale back its Section 8 participation, and chastisement (and worse) from the federal government, which portrayed those modifications as racist.
It is time to move on. Ten years of record-keeping have shown, in general, that blame attributed to Section 8 for crime is overblown.
With that stated, it must be noted that Dubuque’s compilation of statistics was inexact. Authorities did about the best they could, without committing incredible amounts of additional resources just to chase down facts that might not have been available anyway.
Mark Twain once said, “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”
And such is the case here. How and where to apply statistics — especially in the absence of certain facts — leaves the Dubuque initiative with generalities more than specifics.
Call it getting into the weeds or chasing down a rabbit hole — pick your saying — but we don’t plan to go there regarding all of Dubuque’s numbers. But some numbers should be mentioned.
The numbers city officials are pushing to the fore are these: Dubuque’s Section 8 participants make up about 3.1% of the city’s population, and they accounted for 3.6% of the arrests made in the city.
Those two numbers are pretty darn close. However, for the arrest rate to get down to 3.6%, arrests of non-residents and people whose addresses or Section 8 status could not be verified were assumed to have no connection with the Dubuque housing assistance program. They were lumped into the bigger number.
Backing out arrestees with a permanent address outside the city — they account for one in four arrests overall — that 3.6% figure increases to 4.7%.
Is that cause for alarm? No.
Considering the strong correlation between poverty and crime, and considering that the Housing Choice Voucher program helps low-income residents, if there was any surprise about Dubuque’s numbers it is that there isn’t the huge disparity that Section 8 critics suggest.
Do away with Section 8 in Dubuque? Not only is that not justified, if even possible, it likely would force into the streets hundreds of our most vulnerable neighbors, including veterans, seniors and people with disabilities. Section 8 allows a roof over their heads.
Are there some bad actors and incidents involving Section 8 participants? Certainly. And we’ve heard about them. What program anywhere — public or private sector — is free of problems?
Section 8 addresses an important need in the community, and a decade of record-keeping has provided some perspective into the conversation.
Now, it’s time to turn the page, close the book and allow local leaders to devote those resources elsewhere.
— Oct. 2