America’s Vacant Housing Challenge


Alan Mallach is out with a new study from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy called “The Empty House Next Door.” It’s a look at vacant housing in America’a cities. This chart should give you a feel for the problem in a number of places.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the study:

Concentrated vacancy, what we call hypervacancy, is a particular challenge for these cities. Hypervacancy is not merely the existence of large numbers of vacant properties; it is a condition in which vacant properties—either buildings or vacant lots or both—are so extensive and so concentrated that they define the character of the surrounding area.

Hypervacancy has been rising steadily in legacy cities since the 1990s. Although only one out of sixteen census tracts in Cleveland was hypervacant in 1990, by 2010, one out of two tracts in that city had reached hypervacancy. When vacancies rise above approximately 20 percent of an area’s total properties, the number of vacant buildings and lots may continue to grow indefinitely. Although vacancies rarely reach 100 percent—because even the most distressed neighbor- hood may have a few long-term owners—the market effectively ceases to function. Houses sell, if they sell at all, only to investors at rock bottom prices while the neighborhoods become areas of concentrated poverty, unemployment, and health problems.

The number of vacant properties in the United States has been steadily rising for more than a decade. Although vacancies spiked after the foreclosure crisis and the Great Recession and have dropped significantly since then, there are still far more than there were in 2000. More importantly, the number of vacant properties has not diminished everywhere. Although they have dropped back to pre-crisis levels in Sunbelt cities like Phoenix or Las Vegas, vacancies are still at epidemic levels in many older cities, particularly in the nation’s legacy cities. In many blocks or neighborhoods of legacy cities such as Detroit and Cleveland, for example, the number of vacant buildings and lots has come to outnumber the occupied ones. Typically, the areas in which these deserted structures are located also have the city’s highest concentration of poverty.

Click over to read the whole thing.

This piece originally appeared on Urbanophile.

Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and an economic development columnist for Governing magazine. He focuses on ways to help America’s cities thrive in an ever more complex, competitive, globalized, and diverse twenty-first century. During Renn’s 15-year career in management and technology consulting, he was a partner at Accenture and held several technology strategy roles and directed multimillion-dollar global technology implementations. He has contributed to The Guardian,, and numerous other publications. Renn holds a B.S. from Indiana University, where he coauthored an early social-networking platform in 1991.

Photo: *Hajee, via Flickr, using CC License.