How many vacant homes are there in America?
Hello! Thanks for your question about vacant homes in America. The short answer is that there are roughly 18,600,000 vacant homes in the United States as of February 2014. There are 600,000 Americans who experience homelessness on any given night, making the amount of vacant homes six times the amount of individuals without a place to sleep at night.
THE 2008 FINANCIAL CRISIS
2008 was one of the most economically dangerous years since the Great Depression. Since then, home foreclosure filings have been drastically high. 2008 saw a record 81% increase in foreclosure filings, with a total of 861,664 households losing their homes. These rates have fallen; an estimated 549,000 homes were in a stage of foreclosure as of January 2015. Foreclosure rates remain high, and this is a huge contributor to the high number of vacant homes.
Many of these foreclosed homes are actually "zombie foreclosures," in which
"...the homeowner moves out after foreclosure has been started, but for some reason the foreclosure is cancelled, the sale is never held, or title is never officially transferred to a new owner. As a result, title remains in the homeowner’s name."
These zombie foreclosures are extremely damaging for homeowners, and prevent homes from having new occupants as they fall into disrepair, still in the homeowner's name. This is also terrible for entire neighborhoods, devaluing other nearby homes.
Many foreclosed/vacant homes have become the homes of squatters. Some community and nonprofit organizations believe that these vacant houses should be available to the hundreds of thousands of homeless people for squatting, citing squatters rights. Squatting is often associated with crime, drugs, and violence--none of which are desirable to the rest of the neighborhood. Additionally, these vacant homes are dangerous for the squatters due to the lack of structural stability.
FAIRLY USING VACANT HOUSING
There are also humanitarian efforts to purchase foreclosed/vacant homes and buildings to convert them to affordable housing for the homeless. One organization working for these conversions is Housing Our Neighbors in Baltimore. The creation of community landtrusts may seem like common sense: homeless people + empty homes = homes for homeless people, right? Unfortunately, according to the Atlantic,
"...developers aren't exactly excited about the idea of giving up housing stock for the people sleeping on the streets of Baltimore. Because the housing market in the city is weak, developers are more focused on gentrifying neighborhoods and preventing more abandonment from happening."
Another roadblock, according to Business Insider:
"Some banks have solved this by bulldozing foreclosed homes and giving the property over to the city. Bank of America, for example, donated 100 lots in Cleveland after bulldozing the properties; they've made similar contributions in Chicago and Detroit... Wells Fargo gave 100 properties to the Cuyahoga County Land Reutilization Corporation. Municipal governments like Cuyahoga County prefer the empty land, in a lot of cases, because they can assemble bigger parcels for development or park use. And banks say it's more economical to knock the houses down than fix them up."
With cities and banks working against these commonsense efforts to alleviate homelessness, advocates for community landtrusts face an uphill battle.
The comparison of numbers of vacant homes and the homeless population over the last eight years makes a bleak statment about housing inequality. While foreclosure rates have gone down, the housing crisis is still looming. Hopefully nonprofits and cities can begin to work together to untangle the legal and financial complexities of foreclosures and vacant properties in ways that can benefit homeless American families. Thanks for using Wonder! Please let us know if we can help with anything else!