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Metros with the most unoccupied homes in America

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Jessica Kourkounis // Getty Images

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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Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons

#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.

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Florence Conventions and Visitors Bureau // Shutterstock

#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.

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Brendan Smialowski // Getty Images

#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.

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Chris Pruitt // Wikimedia Commons

#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.

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Cory Barnes // Shutterstock

#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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Grzegorz Czapski // Shutterstock

#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.

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Loren Elliott // Getty Images

#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.]

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WillHuebie // Shutterstock

#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.]

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Jacob Boomsma // Shutterstock

#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.

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Felix Mizioznikov // Shutterstock

#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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Robinaire // Wikimedia Commons

#40. Alexandria, Louisiana

- Total homes in metro area: 67,823
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 12,696 (18.7% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,638
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 365
--- Homes for sale: 748
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 2,969
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 791
--- Homes for migrant workers: 20
--- Other vacant homes: 6,165

The city of Alexandria finds itself in a pinch that is all too familiar to towns across America struggling with a glut of empty houses. Alexandria is swimming in vacant dwellings, and when they’re left to stand, they fall into disrepair, lower surrounding property values, and become magnets for crime and vagrancy. But when the city tears them down, which Alexandria has been attempting to do wherever possible, the city foots the bill to the tune of $10,000 for a single-story, 1,200-square-foot home.

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Jeff Schear // Getty Images for Catalyst Content Festival

#39. Duluth, Minnesota-Wisconsin

- Total homes in metro area: 144,323
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 27,097 (18.8% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,619
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 614
--- Homes for sale: 864
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 281
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 18,117
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 5,602

To grapple with its glut of unoccupied homes, the City of Duluth has taken significant and sometimes imaginative measures to combat the problem. In 2017, the city raised the fees associated with vacant properties. Two years later, Duluth is considering giving away vacant lots to spur legitimate development.

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Tim Roberts Photography // Shutterstock

#38. Sierra Vista-Douglas, Arizona

- Total homes in metro area: 61,318
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 11,567 (18.9% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,644
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 663
--- Homes for sale: 1,322
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 385
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 2,627
--- Homes for migrant workers: 26
--- Other vacant homes: 4,900

It’s more affordable to rent a home than to buy one in much of Arizona, according to Phoenix New Times, which could lead to unoccupied homes staying empty. One of the seven counties where that dynamic is most dramatic is Cochise County, which is part of the Sierra Vista-Douglas metro region.

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Wangkun Jia // Shutterstock

#37. Bangor, Maine

- Total homes in metro area: 76,144
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 14,379 (18.9% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,005
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 856
--- Homes for sale: 684
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 281
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 6,253
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 4,300

Unlike Portland, Maine, where a lack of available housing means there are almost no unoccupied houses, Bangor was piling up vacant properties at an uncomfortably fast rate. The city took decisive action, however, that has led to a drop in empty structures. Today there are 152 vacant houses in and around Bangor compared with over 200 just a few years ago.

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Wangkun Jia // Shutterstock

#36. Utica-Rome, New York

- Total homes in metro area: 139,326
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 26,526 (19.0% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,343
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 666
--- Homes for sale: 2,482
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 665
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 9,794
--- Homes for migrant workers: 105
--- Other vacant homes: 10,471

Derelict properties have long been a problem in much of Upstate New York, but the city of Rome recently positioned itself as an example of how to leverage the law in dealing with the problem. Shortly after the State of New York passed a law requiring banks to maintain any homes they foreclose on, Rome began actively prosecuting offenders who let so-called “zombie properties” fall into disrepair. The city also established a database that makes it easy for potential buyers to find out who owns them.

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Christopher Boswell // Shutterstock

#35. Kingston, New York

- Total homes in metro area: 85,431
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 16,277 (19.1% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,361
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 485
--- Homes for sale: 839
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 405
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 6,877
--- Homes for migrant workers: 356
--- Other vacant homes: 5,954

In New York’s Hudson Valley, Kingston has a glut of empty houses largely because of the one-two punch of population loss and gentrification. People are relocating there, but the population is declining just the same. That’s because most of the people moving in are wealthier professionals from New York City who have small families.

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Beachside Tribe // Shutterstock

#34. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 280,390
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 54,027 (19.3% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 7,288
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 896
--- Homes for sale: 3,713
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 953
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 28,255
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 12,922

Brevard County, which is part of the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville statistical area, is experiencing a rise in homelessness. Much of it, according to the Sadowski Housing Coalition, can be traced to a rise in housing costs. A steep increase in home values has forced people out of the homes they owned or rented, increasing demand for scarce affordable housing. This, in turn, forces families onto the streets and leaves the region packed with unoccupied houses.

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Ultrahip // Wikimedia Commons

#33. Lakeland-Winter Haven, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 299,432
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 58,261 (19.5% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 5,346
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 1,239
--- Homes for sale: 3,978
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 866
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 34,799
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 12,033

Lakeland is a microcosm of America’s affordable-housing crisis. Stagnant wages are bumping into soaring home prices, forcing far too many people to compete for far too few affordable-housing units. A direct side effect of this dynamic in Lakeland and beyond is that a rash of now unaffordable homes sits empty for a lack of buyers or renters who can afford them.

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Tim Roberts Photography // Shutterstock

#32. Yuma, Arizona

- Total homes in metro area: 93,571
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 19,039 (20.3% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,087
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 175
--- Homes for sale: 828
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 629
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 11,661
--- Homes for migrant workers: 687
--- Other vacant homes: 2,972

Long a destination for retirees and others seeking cheap housing, much of Arizona is now experiencing rapid population growth and a housing boom. Many of the houses being built, however, are beyond the financial reach of many residents who have always been there—in Yuma and beyond. Although new homes are being built, the price of existing homes in some places is rising so quickly that they’re sitting empty because of a lack of qualified buyers.

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Protophobic // Wikimedia Commons

#31. Pittsfield, Massachusetts

- Total homes in metro area: 69,393
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 14,181 (20.4% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 618
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 29
--- Homes for sale: 604
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 162
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 9,409
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 3,359

Pittsfield is so awash in unoccupied homes that it created a task force charged with a “slow and costly effort to rid the city of ghost dwellings that depress neighborhoods and invite crime.” The main contributor to the crisis is simple poverty. In a separate report, The Berkshire Eagle noted that many vacant homes can be attributed to growing economic inequality and a lack of high-paying jobs. All of this is taking place amid a backdrop of a strong tourism economy and a boom in second-home purchases.

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Carol M. Highsmith/Library of Congress // Wikimedia Commons

#30. Dothan, Alabama

- Total homes in metro area: 69,836
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 14,405 (20.6% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,641
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 513
--- Homes for sale: 858
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 167
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 2,172
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 8,054

Like Anniston and Oxford, Dothan’s excess of unoccupied homes can be attributed to the root cause of so many of Alabama’s housing woes—poverty. Dothan suffers from a poverty rate of 19.7%—that’s about one resident in five, according to a columnist in the Anniston Star. That level of poverty is unsettling even by the standards of Alabama, which is one of the six poorest states in the country.

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Sharon Day // Shutterstock

#29. Hot Springs, Arkansas

- Total homes in metro area: 51,025
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 10,618 (20.8% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,718
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 547
--- Homes for sale: 478
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 871
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 5,717
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 1,287

It seems counterintuitive that a place could have too many empty houses and too many people with nowhere to live, but high rates of homelessness coincide with high rates of unoccupied homes. That’s certainly the case in Hot Springs, which is grappling with a massive rise in homelessness that’s crowding the city’s shelters, overwhelming its social service agencies, and blighting its streets.

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Tracy Burroughs Brown // Shutterstock

#28. Tuscaloosa, Alabama

- Total homes in metro area: 110,843
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 23,246 (21.0% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,645
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 427
--- Homes for sale: 410
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 303
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 13,693
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 6,768

Tuscaloosa is coming off a stretch of intense real estate activity in what was recently a hot housing market. Houses in good shape new to the market were routinely snapped up soon after being listed through most of 2017, but that’s changing. By the summer of 2018, the market had cooled—sales were down, inventory was up, prices had fallen, and the number of unoccupied homes was on the rise.

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Canva

#27. Monroe, Louisiana

- Total homes in metro area: 82,278
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 17,487 (21.3% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 3,265
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 96
--- Homes for sale: 990
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 2,179
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 2,573
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 8,384

Monroe is the most poverty-stricken city in Louisiana, a state that ranks among the poorest in the nation, according to a local news report. No other city in the state has experienced a faster growth of residents living in “extreme poverty,” which is defined as a family of four living on less than $25,000 a year.

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Paul Sableman // Flickr

#26. Cape Girardeau, Missouri-Illinois

- Total homes in metro area: 43,877
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 9,509 (21.7% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,637
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 267
--- Homes for sale: 1,083
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 235
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 2,016
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 4,271

According to USA Today, Cape Girardeau has Missouri’s highest concentration of people enduring the combination of what the paper calls “concentrated poverty”—living below the poverty line while also living in an extremely poor neighborhood. The number of poor people living in “extreme poverty” neighborhoods—where at least 40% of residents are also poor—more than doubled in Cape Girardeau between 2010 and 2016.

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S. Winkvist // Wikimedia Commons

#25. Lake Havasu City-Kingman, Arizona

- Total homes in metro area: 115,269
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 24,999 (21.7% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 894
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 351
--- Homes for sale: 853
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 13
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 17,380
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 5,508

As with so many other metro areas on this list, the rise of unoccupied homes in and around Lake Havasu directly correlates to an increased lack of affordable housing. “Families at median income levels are being priced out of new home markets,” according to the Associated Press, and Lake Havasu City has the highest rents in Mohave County.

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David Byron Keener // Shutterstock

#24. Homosassa Springs, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 79,988
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 17,695 (22.1% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,821
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0
--- Homes for sale: 829
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 465
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 9,833
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 3,747

Forty-six percent of Florida residents struggle to pay for basics like food, housing, and transportation, according to the Citrus County Chronicle. In Citrus County, where Homosassa Springs is located, the situation is even more dire, with one in two residents struggling just to pay for necessities. In places where necessities are a struggle, empty houses tend to be plenty.

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Bubba73 (Jud McCranie) // Wikimedia Commons

#23. Brunswick, Georgia

- Total homes in metro area: 61,215
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 13,949 (22.8% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,555
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 345
--- Homes for sale: 734
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 406
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 5,942
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 3,967

A familiar dynamic is at play in Brunswick, according to the Brunswick News, and the phrase of the day, once again, is affordable housing—or more accurately, a lack thereof. According to standard income-to-loan borrowing recommendations, the average home price in Brunswick should be about $140,000, but the median sale price is closer to $190,000. Home values are rising faster than incomes, foreclosures are on the rise, and more homes are sitting empty for longer periods of time.

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Photolitherland // Wikimedia Commons

#22. Pine Bluff, Arkansas

- Total homes in metro area: 42,308
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 9,841 (23.3% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,138
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0
--- Homes for sale: 323
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 0
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 869
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 7,511

Pine Bluff was already struggling economically in the summer of 2019 when a devastating flood rendered much of the region uninhabitable. Although a revitalization plan was already underway, Mother Nature had other ideas. As with the Hurricane Harvey-ravaged towns of Texas, high waters in Arkansas created a landscape littered with unoccupied homes.

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Pat McGinley // Shutterstock

#21. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 438,587
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 104,052 (23.7% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 11,786
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 2,310
--- Homes for sale: 4,468
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 3,316
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 67,225
--- Homes for migrant workers: 661
--- Other vacant homes: 14,286

Sarasota is part of one of the 11 fastest-growing regions in the United States, according to Sarasota Magazine, with houses and condos popping up across the area to make room for inward migration averaging 14 new residents a day. Still, the region has a high rate of unoccupied homes. That’s because, following a familiar theme, a lack of affordable housing has priced out average Sarasota residents while wealthy newcomers and retirees snap up new, expensive houses, leaving the landscape dotted with empty older homes that new arrivals don’t want and longtime residents can’t afford.

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Christopher Boswell // Shutterstock

#20. Wheeling, West Virginia-Ohio

- Total homes in metro area: 68,798
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 16,363 (23.8% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,586
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 233
--- Homes for sale: 801
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,059
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 1,010
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 10,674

Over 13% of the homes in Wheeling have negative equity, according to Zillow, compared with the national average of 8.2%. The issue surrounding the rising number of unoccupied homes in the region was illuminated—literally—in October 2019, when one of many vacant homes slated for demolition there caught fire. West Virginia University’s Brownfield, Abandoned, Dilapidated (BAD) program is providing resources statewide to redevelop such buildings.

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Jessica Kourkounis // Getty Images

#19. Atlantic City-Hammonton, New Jersey

- Total homes in metro area: 128,408
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 31,427 (24.5% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 3,017
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 281
--- Homes for sale: 2,509
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 662
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 19,140
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 5,818

The Press of Atlantic City in 2019 described a town trapped in the shadow of a dying casino industry where trash-strewn streets, crime, blight, and rows of empty houses are the norm—that town was the once-vibrant tourist destination of Atlantic City. Despite a nine-figure redevelopment project in the works, Atlantic City’s growing tally of dead casinos are physical reminders of how the city morphed into a landscape of blighted, abandoned houses left to fester when tens of thousands of casino jobs left the city.

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Chris Allan // Shutterstock

#18. Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, South Carolina

- Total homes in metro area: 112,376
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 28,335 (25.2% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 3,106
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0
--- Homes for sale: 1,217
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 482
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 21,142
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 2,388

Hilton Head is a destination known for its beautiful beaches and sprawling golf courses, but it’s also peppered with long-empty, rotting homes that once were the epitome of paradise. The Island Packet recently told the story of a home once valued at almost $725,000 that’s now a sinking heap crawling with snakes and rodents, its big swimming pool now a “breeding ground for mosquitoes.” An aging population, Hurricane Matthew, and unqualified buyers given loans for houses they couldn’t afford before the 2008 crash all contributed to this dynamic, and it’s not just homes—abandoned commercial buildings are causing headaches across Hilton Head, as well.

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Kenneth C. Zirkel // Wikimedia Commons

#17. Glens Falls, New York

- Total homes in metro area: 69,804
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 17,808 (25.5% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 359
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 28
--- Homes for sale: 603
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 243
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 12,506
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 4,069

In 2018, an official inventory found 98 properties abandoned or unoccupied—some very nice and in good shape—scattered around Glens Falls. More than half were bank-owned foreclosures or going through the process of bank foreclosure—many more are at risk and could soon be added to the growing unoccupied list. According to the Post Star, part of the problem is that financial firms bundle mortgages as securities, squeeze as much profit from them as possible, and by the time they offload them, the properties are so laden with debt that no buyer could make money by purchasing them.

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Wangkun Jia // Shutterstock

#16. Watertown-Fort Drum, New York

- Total homes in metro area: 60,041
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 15,384 (25.6% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,619
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 422
--- Homes for sale: 320
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,320
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 10,558
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 1,145

As early as 2016, housing prices were declining in Watertown, which already had over 150 abandoned homes at the time. Part of the problem was that many of them already had long been sitting vacant by the time they went into foreclosure. They then arrived on the market in a state of disrepair, making them harder to sell even at a steep loss, which further dragged down already sinking housing prices.

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Brian Cleary // Getty Images

#15. Sebring, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 55,760
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 15,187 (27.2% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 450
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 206
--- Homes for sale: 1,684
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 277
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 9,203
--- Homes for migrant workers: 236
--- Other vacant homes: 3,131

Over 9,000 of the unoccupied homes in the popular outdoors and racing destination of Sebring metro are seasonal or recreational, but darker forces also contribute to the area’s stockpile of empty houses. Sebring has one of the 35 highest poverty rates of any metro in the country, according to USA Today. With a poverty rate of more than 20%, the metro area ranks among the top 25% in America for both unemployment and the number of people receiving public assistance and is in the bottom 10% in terms of median household income.

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N.A. Qurashi // Shutterstock

#14. Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, Alabama

- Total homes in metro area: 116,632
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 33,131 (28.4% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 16,578
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 405
--- Homes for sale: 1,228
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 879
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 9,890
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 4,151

Zillow ranks the real estate climate in Daphne as a “very hot” sellers’ market that’s been witnessing a solid and consistent rise in property values. The Eastern Shore Chamber of Commerce confirms that much of Baldwin County, where Daphne is located, is enjoying rising prices and low inventory—enjoying if you’re a seller, that is. For many others across the entire state of Alabama, hot markets make affordable housing even harder to come by, which can quickly lead to an increase in unoccupied homes.

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logopop // Wikimedia Commons

#13. Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 151,347
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 43,007 (28.4% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 11,101
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 87
--- Homes for sale: 1,062
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 0
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 23,114
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 7,643

Heavy construction equipment smashing derelict homes has become a fairly common sight in the Crestview region, as officials authorize abandoned homes to be demolished to make way for new affordable housing. The proliferation of unoccupied homes, however, is not all about blight. More than 23,000 of the metro area’s unoccupied homes are for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use.

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Joe West // Shutterstock

#12. Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii

- Total homes in metro area: 73,889
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 21,038 (28.5% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 10,402
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 689
--- Homes for sale: 1,257
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 360
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 6,361
--- Homes for migrant workers: 210
--- Other vacant homes: 1,759

Prospective homebuyers in Maui County—particularly those earning near the median income—face an uphill battle. In 2019, home prices went over $700,000 five times in a single year, sending the affordable housing index crashing. Median sale prices jumped 5.3% to $635,600 in Wailuku and soared by 15.6% to $676,193 in Kahului.

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Carol Ann Mossa // Shutterstock

#11. Punta Gorda, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 105,164
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 30,189 (28.7% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,440
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 1,606
--- Homes for sale: 1,734
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 483
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 20,595
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 3,331

Few places in the country were hit harder by the 2008 housing crash than the posh vacation communities near Punta Gorda, with homes in resort areas losing as much as 50% of their value. Today, money is flowing back into those resort areas, as well as into Punta Gorda Metro—but perhaps that money has flowed back in too quickly for the affordable housing index to keep up. According to Zillow, the home value index there was $131,000 in 2012. Fast-forward seven years to 2019 and it has skyrocketed to $241,000.

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Noah Densmore // Shutterstock

#10. Sebastian-Vero Beach, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 81,037
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 23,401 (28.9% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 5,633
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 617
--- Homes for sale: 2,262
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 908
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 9,180
--- Homes for migrant workers: 688
--- Other vacant homes: 4,113

It’s hard to say exactly what’s behind the large number of unoccupied houses in the Sebastian-Vero Beach region, but one thing is certain—renting there is no picnic. High demand and low inventory have sent rental prices skyward, according to VeroNews.com. Seasonal residents are frequently staying longer throughout the year and many aging baby boomers who regularly vacationed there are now making the region their permanent home.

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Frank Bach // Shutterstock

#9. Flagstaff, Arizona

- Total homes in metro area: 66,838
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 19,563 (29.3% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,836
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 178
--- Homes for sale: 584
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 451
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 12,600
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 2,914

It’s clear what’s behind the ever-growing clusters of empty houses in Flagstaff, according to the Arizona Daily Sun. Second-home owners now account for 25% of the city’s housing stock, a huge influx of Northern Arizona University students has driven up rents, and the region’s population is growing rapidly—and house flippers have long been cashing in on that growth.

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Jillian Cain Photography // Shutterstock

#8. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 399,741
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 118,519 (29.6% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 6,147
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 787
--- Homes for sale: 5,141
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 2,302
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 88,732
--- Homes for migrant workers: 212
--- Other vacant homes: 15,198

Lee County is home to Cape Coral and Fort Myers, and it was the epicenter of the housing crash of 2008—CNN called it “America’s foreclosure capital.” In a slow, but still astonishing recovery, both construction and foreclosures have all but returned to their pre-recession levels. Today, nearly 89,000 of the region’s unoccupied homes are not bank-owned foreclosures, but seasonal or recreational homes.

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP // Getty Images

#7. Panama City, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 114,504
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 34,057 (29.7% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,969
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 498
--- Homes for sale: 1,594
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,564
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 21,580
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 5,852

In 2018, Hurricane Michael reorganized the housing dynamic in and around Panama City. Many of the unoccupied homes are vacant because they were damaged or destroyed by the storm, and the properties that survived were soon renting for much more than usual. The Panama City News Herald penned a telling headline to tell the tale: “‘Beach price for county property’: Housing costs rising since Hurricane Michael say renters, real estate agents.”

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Doug Kerr // Shutterstock

#6. East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania

- Total homes in metro area: 81,664
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 26,555 (32.5% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 285
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 125
--- Homes for sale: 1,178
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 344
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 18,576
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 6,047

Nearly one in three homes in East Stroudsburg is unoccupied, but about 70% of the homes are seasonal or recreational. That’s because East Stroudsburg is in Monroe Country in the heart of the Poconos, Pennsylvania's premier ski/outdoors/vacation destination. Monroe County is one of Airbnb’s hottest markets, which makes it appear that many homes there are unoccupied when, in fact, they are continuously occupied by paying peer-to-peer rental customers.

[Pictured: Downtown Stroudsburg, PA.]

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FloridaStock // Shutterstock

#5. Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, Florida

- Total homes in metro area: 218,279
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 74,107 (34% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 3,207
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 627
--- Homes for sale: 4,483
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 688
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 61,052
--- Homes for migrant workers: 420
--- Other vacant homes: 3,630

All but about 13,000 of the 74,107 unoccupied homes in the wealthy destination of Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island are seasonal or recreational homes, and like East Stroudsburg in the Poconos, the alternative rental market is booming. According to Forbes, niche brokerages are popping up to cash in on the short-term rental boom, existing solely to list and manage properties on sites like Airbnb. That can make an area appear to be covered in unoccupied properties when it’s actually brimming with people who are there only for a few days.

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Eliyahu Yosef Parypa // Shutterstock

#4. Salisbury, Maryland-Delaware

- Total homes in metro area: 251,638
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 90,333 (35.9% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,072
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 852
--- Homes for sale: 2,740
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 990
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 72,547
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 11,132

As recently as 2017, Delmarva Now was calling overstretched renters “Salisbury's unofficial emblem.” In the 10 years that elapsed between the start of the recession in 2007 and the publishing of that report, the percentage of “burdened” renters—those spending more than 30% of their income on housing—jumped from 40% to 57%.

[Pictured: Aerial view of Ocean City, Maryland.]

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DANIEL SLIM/AFP // Getty Images

#3. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC

- Total homes in metro area: 302,984
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 115,052 (38.0% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 18,324
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 409
--- Homes for sale: 4,015
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 415
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 82,311
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 9,578

Myrtle Beach is a city of 35,000 residents with 18 million visitors, according to MyHorryNews.com. Regulations currently prohibit rentals of fewer than 30 days in some residentially zoned areas, but Airbnb is not banned in all neighborhoods. That, coupled with the fact that over 82,000 homes of the region’s “unoccupied” dwellings are seasonal or recreational, it sometimes appears that Myrtle Beach is a ghost town when it’s actually one of the most popular resort destinations on the East Coast.

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JLV Photo // Shutterstock

#2. Barnstable Town, Massachusetts

- Total homes in metro area: 164,329
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 77,658 (47.3% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,702
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0
--- Homes for sale: 2,041
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,314
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 69,692
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0
--- Other vacant homes: 2,909

Cape Cod’s booming short-term rental market is causing major friction in the famous Massachusetts beach resort getaway, according to NBC10 Boston. The proliferation of investors buying homes just to rent them on sites like Airbnb is making many long-time residents feel like their community is a revolving door for short-term tourists. It also makes it appear that Barnstable Town is packed with empty houses, when most are empty only long enough for cleaning crews to make way for the next rotation of Airbnbers.

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Vlad G // Shutterstock

#1. Ocean City, New Jersey

- Total homes in metro area: 99,427
- Total unoccupied homes in 2018: 60,219 (60.6% of total homes)
--- Homes for rent: 4,713
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 41
--- Homes for sale: 957
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 92
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 52,262
--- Homes for migrant workers: 110
--- Other vacant homes: 2,044

Ocean City epitomizes the kind of Jersey Shore town lawmakers had in mind when the state passed an 11.6% “Airbnb tax” on short-term rentals, which took effect in October 2019. Nearly two out of three homes in the family-friendly Cape May County summer hotspot—60,219—are listed as “unoccupied,” but 52,262 of them are seasonal or recreational homes. Countless others are short-term rentals that appear to be vacancies when they’re actually among the ever-growing tally of homes purchased by investors for renting during peak season on sites like Airbnb. Tourism is now a $6.6 billion industry in Cape May County.

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