There Are 18.6 Million Empty Homes In America

by on April 28, 2008 · 7 comments

in Organizing

Today Reuters reported that due to the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the dramatic rise in foreclosures of owner-occupied housing, America now has a record number of vacant homes across the country – for the first quarter of this year. In discussing the rise in the share of vacant homes, the Reuters article, by Joanne Morrison, casually dropped a bomb: “the total number of vacant U.S. properties hit 18.6 million, which was a record,” quoting a U.S. Census Bureau official.

18.6 MILLION vacant homes! Now, that’s alotta vacancies. Incredible. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty there are 3.5 million homeless people in this country. So, roughly, that’s 5 1/3 empty homes for every homeless person. This system sure is working, isn’t it?

by Joanne Morrison / April 28, 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The share of vacant U.S. homes rose to a record level in the first quarter, the government reported on Monday, with homeowners finding it increasingly difficult to find buyers in a collapsed market and more homes in foreclosure.

The percentage of owner-occupied homes now sitting empty rose to 2.9 percent in the January-to-March period, the third quarter in a row in which the vacancy rate increased, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In the final quarter of last year, the share of vacant non-rental housing stood at 2.8 percent, a level hit for the first time a year ago. However, officials at Census called the latest increase “statistically insignificant.”

Still, the total number of vacant U.S. properties hit 18.6 million, which was a record, a Census official said.

Analysts attributed the rising vacancy rate to a surge in foreclosures brought on by the subprime mortgage crisis. They predicted there will be few signs of improvement until the end of this year or early in 2009, when the glut in home inventories is expected to stabilize.

“The problem right now with this vacancy is there are so many homes in foreclosure,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody’s Economy.Com in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

The drop in home values nationwide has pushed many borrowers toward foreclosure and upset lending standards in many markets. Many analysts believe home prices will not rebound until 2010.

According to data last week from the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 18 percent of previously owned homes that are for sale have negative equity and are either in foreclosure proceedings or headed for a “short sale” in which the lender will write off some of the original loan amount.

“This has been a frustration of our members,” the real estate trade group’s chief economist, Lawrence Yun, said last week. “Lenders have been dragging their feet” in approving short sales.

In March, the inventory of previously owned homes available for sale rose 1 percent to a 9.9 months’ supply at the current sales pace, the latest NAR data showed.

“Things will get worse before they will get better,” said Kurt Karl, chief economist at Swiss Re in New York.


At the same time, the U.S. homeownership rate moved up to a seasonally adjusted 67.9 percent from a near seven-year-low of 67.7 percent in the fourth quarter and 68.5 percent in the first quarter of 2007, according to the Census data.

Regionally, homeowner vacancy rates for the first three months of this year were the lowest in the Northeast, hitting 2 percent compared with 1.9 percent the same time a year earlier.

Homeowner vacancy rates were unchanged from the same time a year ago in both the Midwest and the South, at 2.9 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively. But they shot up to 3.2 percent in the West, the area hardest hit by the crisis in risky subprime mortgages, from 2.6 percent a year earlier.[For the original article, go here.]

(Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Monty Reed Kroopkin April 28, 2008 at 10:20 pm

The only house that really SHOULD be vacated right now, is the White House.


Jason Louv November 28, 2012 at 5:21 pm

My thoughts on this: why not simply occupy all those foreclosed McMansions and turn them into new paradises?


Bees November 28, 2012 at 6:27 pm

So we should just give out free housing to those who don’t work? You can’t see people taking advantage of this? Enough of my earned money goes to people who don’t even try to get a job, I’ll be damned if I’m gonna pay for more!


M J June 8, 2013 at 10:14 pm

The problem is though Bees that people who don’t have housing don’t usually get benefits and without a house they can’t get jobs it’s a vicious circle. Would you employ somebody who didn’t have an address – it is a huge security risk for an employer.


Kachina July 15, 2014 at 9:56 pm

There are a lot of heartless people that do not understand homelessness or the plight of the homeless. They system we have today has caused an incredible crack in our foundation and there are those that have fallen deep within these cracks by no fault of their own. Fill these vacancies with families and watch how quickly they will recover and get off of state support or off the streets. We are as strong as our weakest link…and…the shame of being homeless and helpless fall upon all of us.


John September 19, 2014 at 8:25 am

A couple of years ago I read a story in the NYT about a man who led an organization that, if I remember correctly, essentially took back houses that even banks did not care about. They rehabbed them and put needy families into them. I’ve searched for this story — can anyone help with the name or organization? I can’t even remember the city where he as working. I’ve thought about trying something similar in St. Louis, but need some guidance. Any help would be appreciated.


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