The Effects of Length of Residence and Exposure to Violence on Perceptions of Neighborhood Safety in an Urban Sample


Perceptions of neighborhood safety shape the well-being of individuals and communities, affecting neighborhood walkability, associated physical activity behaviors, and health conditions. However, less is known about the factors that determine perceptions of safety. One factor that may affect perceptions of neighborhood safety is the length of time someone has lived in their neighborhood. We use a representative, adult sample of urban low-income residents from the 2015 New Haven Health Survey (n = 1189) to investigate the associations between length of residence (new residents of < 1 year in neighborhood versus longer-term residents of 1 or more years in neighborhood) and perceptions of neighborhood safety (whether feeling unsafe to walk at night). We then examine the potential moderating effect of exposure to neighborhood violence on these associations. We find that the association between length of residence and perceived safety differs by exposure to neighborhood violence. Among those unexposed to neighborhood violence, longer-term neighborhood residents were more likely to feel unsafe compared to new residents (OR = 2.03, 95% CI 1.19, 3.45). Additionally, the effect of exposure to violence on feelings of safety was larger for new residents (OR = 9.10, 95% CI 2.72, 30.44) compared to longer-term residents (OR = 1.88, 95% CI 1.28, 2.77). Our findings suggest that length of residence may have implications for feelings of safety, and that experiences of violence may uniquely contribute to feelings of unsafety among new residents. These findings hold implications for interventions and policy efforts aimed at neighborhood safety improvements through community development, housing, or city urban planning initiatives, particularly for new neighborhood residents or those who experience neighborhood violence.

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Mental Health and Wellness; Place-based Research; Public Safety and Crime