Leaving crime-ridden neighborhoods part of economic rise

Leaving crime-ridden neighborhoods part of economic rise
September 01
14:12 2021

By John Railey

The year Jacqualyn Hurst moved from Kennedy Manor in northern Winston-Salem, 2019, there were 131 crimes committed in the area. “There were robberies, fighting, drug dealing – you name it,” she said. “I didn’t feel safe at all, especially with a teenage daughter. I started to drive my daughter to her bus stop because people were trying to pick her up. It was extremely stressful.”

With the help of the Forsyth County Homeownership Program (FCHP), she and her family moved to a new house in northern Winston-Salem. In her new neighborhood, in 2019 only one crime was committed. “Now,” Hurst said, “I watch people jogging by my house, walking their dogs, children playing, like it’s supposed to be. My daughter is not stressed at school and my husband is not stressed at work.”

Winston-Salem State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility (CSEM) has long recognized the relationship between crime and upward economic mobility, and is confronting the issues with its partner groups and its research. The importance of feeling safe at home is reinforced by a groundbreaking study of the FCHP that CSEM has done with the county’s cooperation. The CSEM study found that clients of the program, which helps with down payments and financial literacy, moved to neighborhoods with 90% fewer crimes than their previous ones, on average. 

The study also found the clients moved to neighborhoods with fewer single-parent households, fewer renters and more homeowners, fewer vacant housing units, and increasing shares of highly-educated people.

“We find that the FCHP promoted the movement of low-income residents to areas of the county that are more conducive of economic mobility and are becoming even more so,” CSEM Research Manager Zach Blizard, CSEM Director Craig Richardson and Joseph Sloop, geographic information officer for MapForsyth write in a paper, A Neighborhood Analysis of the Forsyth County Homeownership Program: Where Do Recipients Move and Why? A Neighborhood Analysis of the Forsyth County Homeownership (

“Research also demonstrates that neighborhood-level crime rates are strongly related to upward mobility rates. Moreover, neighborhood-level crime is associated with a host of other important outcomes, like education attainment and school performance, which are important for upward mobility,” they write. “Therefore, if FCHP participants move to neighborhoods with lower crime rates, this would suggest they moved to a neighborhood that is more conducive of upward mobility.”

Crime is a crucial issue in Winston-Salem, with gun violence raging. There have already been 21 homicides in Winston-Salem this year and more than 100 reported shootings. Victims in several of the shootings have been juveniles.

CSEM is confronting the issue by raising public awareness of the FCHP and aligning with neighborhood groups that are working to reduce gun violence.

Each new gun injury and death makes the point all the more painfully clear: You can’t forge a path to upward economic mobility if you don’t feel safe in your home.

The tension created in neighborhoods where the sound of gunshots is common can make it hard for students to concentrate on homework and in school. Single parents might turn down job advances so they can have more time to spend at home, guarding their children. At work, they might be distracted, worrying about their children. And worst of all are the injuries and death, losses from which loved ones sometimes never recover.

“People who are economically challenged live in concrete cages and violence is a direct result of our surroundings,” Nakida McDaniel, an organizer of a new, grass-roots initiative, the Winston-Salem Women’s Gun Violence Prevention Team, has said. “It’s kind of hard for people to put all their marbles together and get going.”

CSEM Associate Director Alvin Atkinson said: “Feeling safe at home should be a given, not a luxury for those in well-resourced neighborhoods. There’s a growing frustration with the violence. It’s been going on too long. And I’m seeing it now far too close to home.”

On Valentine’s Day, Te’ore Terry, the son of Velma Terry, was fatally shot in Winston-Salem. Velma is a leader in the Emotional Emancipation Circle, a support group for Black women she started with CSEM Research Fellow Michele Lewis. 

“Reducing gun violence requires a holistic approach in which everyone has a role and in which the community will is evident in all sectors and demonstrated by a tangible commitment of resources, public and private, that are research-informed and strategically aligned to break the cycle of violence within our neighborhoods,” Atkinson said. “In our community engagement, we work with McDaniel’s group, Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, and other community partners to alleviate the violence in new ways.”

Hurst said, “With my new neighborhood, it’s like it’s supposed to be. I can sit out on the porch at night and look at the sky and not have to worry about anything.”

John Railey,, is the writer-in-residence for CSEM,

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