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Metros with the most unoccupied homes in America

  • Metros with the most unoccupied homes in America

    There are many reasons why a community can wind up with too many houses and not enough people to live in them. Sometimes, it’s a simple case of population loss or an economic downturn that leads to a rash of foreclosures. Other times, there are larger forces at work, like developers overbuilding in anticipation of a housing boom that never materializes. No matter the case, a glut of housing inventory can spell bad news for a neighborhood, a town, or an entire metro region—and in the United States, there were 17,019,726 unoccupied homes in 2018.

    According to a CityLab report based on a recent study by the Center for Community Progress, a nationwide epidemic of unoccupied homes is “America’s other housing crisis.” The report cites the “staggering economic and social costs” that mass vacancies tend to create for the communities they affect. It also points out that the 2008 recession sent the number of vacant homes soaring by 26% between 2005 and 2010, from 9.5 million to 12 million. While that number has declined since, the number of vacancies has never returned to the pre-recession lows in the ensuing decade.

    In that time, the dynamic has shifted. Vacant homes were long associated with economically distressed urban centers often described with the umbrella term “inner city.” Today, however, vacancies are the bane of small towns. In post-recession America, rural areas suffer from vacancy rates that are double those found in metropolitan regions.

    Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2018 American Community Survey, the most recent data available, Stacker compiled a list of the 50 metro areas with the most unoccupied homes. Metro areas are ranked by the percentage of unoccupied homes out of all the homes in each metro area. Ties were broken by the total number of unoccupied homes in the metro area as a whole and micro areas were not considered for the story—only metro areas in the 50 states. Keep reading to find out about the metros where residents are most likely to live next to an empty house.

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  • #50. Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH

    - Total homes in metro area: 165,837
    - Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 29,068 (17.5% of total homes)
    --- Homes for rent: 4,845
    --- Homes rented but not occupied: 1,087
    --- Homes for sale: 3,386
    --- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,452
    --- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 1,559
    --- Homes for migrant workers: 0
    --- Other vacant homes: 16,739

    Most West Virginia cities have lost population since 2010, according to the Logan Banner. Only 32 of the 232 incorporated towns and cities in the state gained residents, but in most of those 32 municipalities, the population grew only by a dozen people or less. The two most populated cities, on the other hand, Charleston and Huntington, have been losing residents every year for the past eight years, making West Virginia America’s fastest-shrinking state per capita.

  • #49. Florence, South Carolina

    - Total homes in metro area: 91,984
    - Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 16,158 (17.6% of total homes)
    --- Homes for rent: 3,110
    --- Homes rented but not occupied: 163
    --- Homes for sale: 1,204
    --- Homes sold, but not occupied: 788
    --- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 1,677
    --- Homes for migrant workers: 0
    --- Other vacant homes: 9,216

    On May 1, 2018, a local NBC affiliate reported that residents of East Florence had been complaining to no avail about the growing number of vacant, dilapidated, and often dangerous properties popping up around the community. It was not a new problem. A year earlier in 2017, things were so bad that the Florence City Council agreed to tear down empty properties with or without owner consent.

  • #48. Cumberland, Maryland-West Virginia

    - Total homes in metro area: 45,984
    - Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 8,091 (17.6% of total homes)
    --- Homes for rent: 852
    --- Homes rented but not occupied: 293
    --- Homes for sale: 1,083
    --- Homes sold, but not occupied: 111
    --- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 1,735
    --- Homes for migrant workers: 0
    --- Other vacant homes: 4,017

    Just two hours from Washington D.C., one of the most expensive housing markets in the United States, is Cumberland, Md., which is the second-cheapest in the country. The median home value there is less than $82,000—and one reason is a glut of inventory. As early as 2007—before the Great Recession and the housing crash—local leaders were working to tighten regulations on the region’s increasing number of vacant nuisance properties.

  • #47. Anniston-Oxford-Jacksonville, Alabama

    - Total homes in metro area: 53,888
    - Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 9,624 (17.9% of total homes)
    --- Homes for rent: 1,104
    --- Homes rented but not occupied: 725
    --- Homes for sale: 606
    --- Homes sold, but not occupied: 828
    --- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 918
    --- Homes for migrant workers: 0
    --- Other vacant homes: 5,443

    Like West Virginia, many Alabama towns and cities have been steadily shrinking for years. Only three Alabama cities have seen five-digit population growth and of the many localities losing residents, only two have lost more than Anniston. The city’s population dropped by 6.7% between 2010 and 2018.

  • #46. Fairbanks, Alaska

    - Total homes in metro area: 44,307
    - Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 7,929 (17.9% of total homes)
    --- Homes for rent: 1,495
    --- Homes rented but not occupied: 886
    --- Homes for sale: 854
    --- Homes sold, but not occupied: 80
    --- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 1,565
    --- Homes for migrant workers: 0
    --- Other vacant homes: 3,049

    The Anchorage Daily News recently published a report on what it called Alaska’s “overcrowded, expensive, poorly built housing.” Not only are houses there expensive to buy, but owning a home in the country’s coldest state is expensive simply because of energy costs. In Fairbanks, where over one-third of residents already pay 30% or more of their household income on housing, the average household pays over $5,200 a year in energy bills.

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  • #45. New Bern, North Carolina

    - Total homes in metro area: 60,397
    - Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 10,870 (18.0% of total homes)
    --- Homes for rent: 958
    --- Homes rented but not occupied: 323
    --- Homes for sale: 620
    --- Homes sold, but not occupied: 397
    --- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 2,372
    --- Homes for migrant workers: 51
    --- Other vacant homes: 6,149

    New Bern’s crisis of unoccupied homes is viewed by some in the community as a city land grab based on hard-to-ignore racial disparity, according to the New Bern Post. The city has 92 homes listed for sale on its website, and more than 70—most of which it gained through foreclosures—are in the historically black Greater Duffyfield neighborhood.

  • #44. Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas

    - Total homes in metro area: 152,374
    - Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 27,562 (18.1% of total homes)
    --- Homes for rent: 4,031
    --- Homes rented but not occupied: 407
    --- Homes for sale: 729
    --- Homes sold, but not occupied: 658
    --- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 12,821
    --- Homes for migrant workers: 0
    --- Other vacant homes: 8,916

    Although its sugarcane fields, Gulf of Mexico beaches, and wild parrots make the southernmost tip of Texas one of the most beautiful places in the United States, it’s also one of the poorest, with Brownsville being a perennial contender for the title of the poorest town in the country. About 70% of the population is uninsured, fewer than 63% graduate from high school, it’s home to the lowest credit scores in the nation, and food and financial deserts are the norm.

    [Pictured: The neighborhood of Boca Chica Village is seen on Sept. 28, 2019 in Boca Chica near Brownsville, Texas.]

  • #43. Lawton, Oklahoma

    - Total homes in metro area: 54,668
    - Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 10,057 (18.4% of total homes)
    --- Homes for rent: 2,676
    --- Homes rented but not occupied: 0
    --- Homes for sale: 783
    --- Homes sold, but not occupied: 2,276
    --- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 672
    --- Homes for migrant workers: 0
    --- Other vacant homes: 3,650

    Unlike several other states on this list, Oklahoma’s population has grown by almost 5% since 2010. In fact, only one metro area had fewer people in 2018 than it did in 2010. That metro area is Lawton, Oklahoma, which despite recording more births than deaths, lost enough people to relocation to give Lawton a net loss of 5,372 residents.

    [Pictured: View from Mt Scott in Lawton, Oklahoma.]

  • #42. Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas

    - Total homes in metro area: 178,050
    - Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 32,920 (18.5% of total homes)
    --- Homes for rent: 2,441
    --- Homes rented but not occupied: 438
    --- Homes for sale: 1,800
    --- Homes sold, but not occupied: 805
    --- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 748
    --- Homes for migrant workers: 0
    --- Other vacant homes: 26,688

    Lawyers representing four Hurricane Harvey-ravaged towns filed suit against the state of Texas recently for what the suit calls systematic discrimination against poor people and minorities in the distribution of storm-relief funds; two of the four towns are Beaumont and Port Arthur. Rita, Ike, and Harvey all devastated the area, with each hurricane arriving as residents were still recovering from the previous storm. In the majority-minority City of Port Arthur—which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state—the storm damaged or destroyed 80% of the city’s homes.

  • #41. Port St. Lucie, Florida

    - Total homes in metro area: 223,168
    - Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 41,330 (18.5% of total homes)
    --- Homes for rent: 3,508
    --- Homes rented but not occupied: 812
    --- Homes for sale: 2,558
    --- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,186
    --- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 24,524
    --- Homes for migrant workers: 0
    --- Other vacant homes: 8,742

    If there are too many unoccupied homes in Port St. Lucie, it might be a simple case of overbuilding. An opinion column in the Treasure Coast Palm asks whether the city is experiencing a housing boom so significant that residents won’t be able to maintain their current quality of life. Port St. Lucie is currently on pace to finish the year with 2,800 new building permits issued, the most since the housing boom of the early 2000s.

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