Friday, February 13, 2009

One in nine houses vacant

By Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY
A record 1 in 9 U.S. homes are vacant, a glut created by the housing boom and subsequent collapse.

"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."

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.

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

A construction frenzy began pushing the vacancy rate up in 2005 but empty homes sold quickly at that time.

"This is a different problem," says Dowell Myers, housing demographer at the University of Southern California. "It's high now because of lack of demand. Now, vacancies we see are from units that have been empty for a period of time."

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% is higher than during previous recessions: 11% in 1991 and 9.4% in 1984.

• About 3% of owned homes are vacant. In normal times, "maybe 1% should be vacant," Myers says.

• More than 9% of homes built since 2000 are vacant compared with about 2% 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.

Historically, vacant housing was more of a concern in cities that have poor neighborhoods. Now, it has hit suburbs and new subdivisions.

"You have abandoned vacant housing in Detroit but you also have it in Henderson, Nev., and Mesa, Ariz. (suburbs of Las Vegas and Phoenix)," Retsinas says.

The stimulus bill before Congress contains $2 billion to help communities buy and fix foreclosed, vacant properties.

One place hit hard is Rialto, Calif., an inland town that boomed by offering shelter from astronomical housing prices in coastal Southern California. Property values have dropped 50% since 2007. In a 40-unit development, only four are occupied, says John Dutrey, housing program manager. Vacant homes, he says, bring "squatters, you have maintenance issues, security issues."


Find this article at:
http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/housing/2009-02-12-vacancy12_N.htm

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