NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 16, 2009

Historically, vacant housing was more of a concern in cities that have poor neighborhoods. Now, it has hit suburbs and new subdivisions.  A record 1 in 9 U.S. homes are vacant, a glut created by the housing boom and subsequent collapse.

The surge in empty houses, condominiums and apartments is creating a wave of problems for communities desperate to shore up property values and tax revenues that pay for services. Vacant homes create upkeep and safety problems that ripple through neighborhoods.

"The numbers are further documentation of the gravity of the housing problem," says Nicolas Retsinas, head of Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies. "This inventory is delaying any kind of housing recovery."

"It has a contagion effect," Retsinas says. "A house that is vacant is often a house that is less well kept up."

Census numbers show:

  • More than 14 million housing units are vacant. That number does not include an estimated 4.8 million seasonal or vacation homes, most of which are occupied part of the year. The combined vacancy rate of almost 15 percent is higher than during previous recessions: 11 percent in 1991 and 9.4 percent in 1984.
  • About 3 percent of owned homes are vacant. In normal times, "maybe 1 percent should be vacant," Myers says.
  • More than 9 percent of homes built since 2000 are vacant compared with about 2 percent for older homes.
  • Homes priced at $500,000 or more are just as likely to be empty as homes that cost less than $100,000.

Source: Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, "No one home: Record 1 in 9 housing units vacant," USA Today, February 13, 2009.

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