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A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial of Blight Remediation and Community Outreach to Improve Residents’ Perceptions of Safety and Wellbeing in Buffalo, NY
Last registered on May 11, 2021

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial of Blight Remediation and Community Outreach to Improve Residents’ Perceptions of Safety and Wellbeing in Buffalo, NY
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0007155
Initial registration date
May 11, 2021
Last updated
May 11, 2021 2:54 PM EDT
Location(s)

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Primary Investigator
Affiliation
Haravard Kennedy School
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Harvard Kennedy School
PI Affiliation
Harvard Kennedy School
Additional Trial Information
Status
In development
Start date
2021-05-17
End date
2022-12-31
Secondary IDs
Abstract
Blight and crime are detrimental to the physical, mental, and social health of individuals and communities. Blight (e.g. physical disorder, vacant structures) gives the impression of low levels of social cohesion and provides concealed spaces in which criminal activity has been shown to occur. There is growing evidence that place-based interventions may successful and sustainable in improving wellbeing by changing the structures of places that enable crime and blight to remain persistently high. This place-based intervention brings together public servants and community partners for intensive and rapid beautification and restoration, outreach and education, and codes and law enforcement focused on blocks in distressed neighborhoods. The program runs May-October, targeting clusters of 200 properties each week. The goal is to eliminate blight and foster block-level community connections in order to improve residents’ wellbeing. However, there has been no prior research on the causal impact of the initiative. In this study, we will conduct a cluster randomized controlled trial to evaluate the impact of blight remediation and community outreach, as delivered through the intervention, on residents’ wellbeing. Wellbeing measured through a panel survey. This study will produce evidence regarding the impact of city-led, place-based initiatives to tackle blight, reduce crime, and improve wellbeing.

Research Questions:
Primary:
1. Does the Clean Sweep Initiative improve residents’ [perception of] wellbeing?
Secondary:
2. Does the Clean Sweep Initiative reduce crime?
3. Does reduction in visible blight sustain after six months?
4. Does the Clean Sweep Initiative change social perception of neighborhood activities/characteristics?
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Creighton, Jessica , Eleanor Dickens and Katharine Robb. 2021. "A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial of Blight Remediation and Community Outreach to Improve Residents’ Perceptions of Safety and Wellbeing in Buffalo, NY." AEA RCT Registry. May 11. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.7155-1.0.
Sponsors & Partners

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Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
The intervention targets approximately 200 properties within a 2-3 block area, and occur each Wednesday between May and October for 4.5 hours (8:30am to 1pm). Approximately 32 interventions occur per year and each involves 50-70 community partners and city employees. Activities typically include: boarding up abandoned structures, removing graffiti and debris, code enforcement (mostly related to exteriors of homes), community policing (police peacemakers making introductions with residents), trimming trees, repairing signs, and going door-to-door offering governmental, employment and health & human services information [1]. Issues that cannot be addressed at the time of the intervention (less than 10% of issues) are typically addressed within 24 hours.

Implementation of the intervention is rolled out with the same or similar city and community partners each week. However, the type of work that is done depends on the needs in a given area (e.g. graffiti removal teams only carry out work in blocks with graffiti). If there are known problem properties in a block, code enforcement officers may plan to enter the home and conduct an inspection. However, most of code enforcement work is related to the exterior of homes, unless inspectors are invited in.
Intervention Start Date
2021-05-19
Intervention End Date
2021-11-26
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
1) Change in residents’ perception of wellbeing (a composite score measuring stress and perception of visible disorder, neighborhood cohesion, and perception city cares). Changes in specific metrics on the survey will also be examined such as perception of safety, stress related to block conditions, perception of physical disorder, and perception that city cares about residents.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Wellbeing will be aggregated into a composite wellbeing score to account for multiple hypothesis testing. The score will be comprised 21 questions to elicit perception of safety, stress related to block conditions, perception of physical disorder, and perception of engagement from the city. These questions will be measured on a 4-point scale. The index will be generated by calculating an average for each of the following four categories below and taking the average across all four:
a. Neighborhood satisfaction and cohesion: nbh_satis_coh_1 — nbh_satis_coh_8
b. Safety and fear: safe_fear_1 — safe_fear_5
c. Social disorder: disord_soc_1 — disord_soc_4
d. Physical disorder: disord_phy_1 — disord_phy_4
Researchers may conduct additional analysis on the above four subgroups separately to supplement the analysis. The Wellbeing survey also collects self-reported data on 311 calls and 911 calls, which may be used to supplement the analysis. Measured at property-level 1 week before and 5 weeks after the intervention in treatment areas, and over 6-week interval in control 1 neighborhoods through the Wellbeing survey.
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
1) Crime - Change in all categories of crime will be measured through administrative data collected from the Buffalo Police Department.
2) Reduction in Visible Blight- measured by observation checklist 1 week prior to intervention and 1 month after intervention (5 weeks apart in control clusters) and 6 months after the last intervention.
3) Social perception of neighborhood activities/characteristics - an indication of changes in social perception of neighborhood activities/characteristics
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
1) Crime: Changes in specific crime types will also be examined including theft/larceny, assault, burglary/robbery, drug-related, nuisance, and gun-related crimes. Crime data that is not attributable to a specific property will be assigned to the nearest property. Crime will be measured at residential and non-residential properties and will include crime data from 6 months before the intervention and 6 months after the intervention in control groups 1 and 2 through administrative data.

2) Reduction in Visible Blight: Changes in observed physical disorder and physical/social order will be collapsed into a single index to account for multiple hypothesis testing. Visible Blight will be measured at the property-level 1 week before and 5 weeks after Clean Sweep in treatment areas, and over 6-week interval in control group 1 through the observation checklist. Researchers plan to conduct additional data collection 6 months after the intervention to observe longer-term changes in social and physical disorder. The index will be comprised of the number of check boxes on an observation checklist weighted by the volume estimate over study period:
a. Physical disorder: Trash on street (volume estimate); Piles of various objects, such as tires, furniture, electronics, plastic (volume estimate); Graffiti (count); Vacant properties boarded up (count); Vacant properties not boarded up (count); Overgrown yards (height estimate); Trees in need of trimming
b. Physical/Social Order: New construction (count); Bulletins/ posters about neighborhood-based community events (count)

3) Social perception of neighborhood activities/characteristics - Social perception of neighborhood conditions will be aggregated into a composite score to include administrative data on 311 calls. City-reported administrative data on 311 calls will be comprised of the count of 311 calls over the study period. Researchers may weight the count of 311 calls by the type of incident reported. Social perception of neighborhood conditions will be measured at residential and non-residential properties and will include data from 6 months before the intervention and 6 months after the intervention in control groups 1 and 2 through administrative data.
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
A data-driven selection process will be used to generate the sampling frame of eligible clusters. All census block groups (CBGs) in the city will be assigned a “priority score”. The scores will be based on a combination of factors including: building permits, police incidents, property sales, current use (commercial, vacant, residential, recreation, natural areas, community services, industrial, other), low-income population (percent at the census block level), unemployment rate (percent at the census block level), and housing cost burden (percent at the census block level). Additionally, each property in the city will be assigned a priority score based on a combination of factors including: 311 calls, police incidents, building permits, code violation, condition of property, fix and flip, property sales, and property tax delinquency status. These scores will be used to determine where clusters should be located within priority CBGs. CBGs with a score of over 55 and properties with an eligibility score of over 40 will be eligible to receive the intervention.

Final generation of the sampling frame will take place within BuildingBlocks, wherein the researchers will eliminate any non-qualifying CBGs, which include a large proportion of properties that are not eligible (i.e. cemeteries, parks, large commercial districts, etc.). Within the priority areas, primarily contained within one CBG, clusters of 200 properties will be selected as eligible. Most clusters will be contained to one council district and one CBG, however based on neighborhood layout, there will be a few exceptions. Where this is the case, in the analysis we will use a weighted average of CBG characteristics for each cluster, proportional to the number of properties from each CBG. The City of Buffalo will visit eligible locations to assess suitability to provide final certification for inclusion in the sampling frame.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Eligible clusters will be randomized into treatment and control groups in April 2021. Given the small sample size of clusters, we will couple stratification on a geographic area with a rerandomization procedure on key baseline observables. There will be 8 strata, one for each council district included in the sampling frame: Ellicott, Fillmore, Lovejoy, Masten, Niagara, North, University and South. No clusters were eligible to receive the intervention in the Delaware council district. Given the large number of strata and low sample size, misfits will be randomly allocated independently across all strata. This method weights treatments as specified by the unequal treatment size fractions, to prioritize balance across the sample. [2] [3]

Researchers will conduct a rerandomization procedure with the above strata to achieve balance on the average police incidents and average housing cost burden (the percent of household income spent on housing costs) in the cluster. The sample will be rerandomized 1000 times, then, for each draw, police incidents and housing cost burden will be regressed against treatment. The draw with the minimum maximum t-statistic will be used. [4]

The control group will then be randomly assigned into two groups: one whose residents will be enrolled in the Wellbeing survey and the other whose residents will not be enrolled in the Wellbeing survey. This assignment follows the same rerandomization procedure with stratification as specified above.

[2] A. Carril, “Dealing with Misfits in Random Treatment Assignment,” Stata J., vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 652–667, Sep. 2017, doi: 10.1177/1536867X1701700307.
[3] “Tools of the trade: Doing Stratified Randomization with Uneven Numbers in some Strata.” https://blogs.worldbank.org/impactevaluations/tools-of-the-trade-doing-stratified-randomization-with-uneven-numbers-in-some-strata (accessed Apr. 21, 2021).
[4] M. Bruhn and D. McKenzie, “IN PURSUIT OF BALANCE: RANDOMIZATION IN PRACTICE IN DEVELOPMENT FIELD EXPERIMENTS#,” p. 41.
Randomization Unit
Neighborhoods of approximately 200 properties
Was the treatment clustered?
Yes
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
96 neighborhoods
Sample size: planned number of observations
19,200 properties in 96 clusters. Given the anticipated survey response rate, there is an expected 2,400 responses to the Wellbeing survey.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
The 96 clusters will be randomly assigned such that 32 clusters will be randomly assigned to treatment and 64 will be randomly assigned to control group. Among the 64 control clusters, 32 will be randomly assigned for enrollment in the Wellbeing Survey.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
Harvard University
IRB Approval Date
2021-04-09
IRB Approval Number
IRB19-1820
Analysis Plan

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