Flint Is Facing Another Big Problem: Vacant Houses
Life + Money

Flint Is Facing Another Big Problem: Vacant Houses


As if battling an unprecedented water contamination crisis wasn’t enough for the residents of Flint, Michigan, the city just landed on an unenviable list: the cities with the biggest share of empty homes.

Of the more than 154,000 homes in Flint, 7.5 percent are vacant, according to a new analysis from RealtyTrac. The city’s vacancy rate is nearly five times the national average of 1.6 percent and tops the list of the metro areas with the highest share of vacant houses. Five zip codes in Flint have vacancy rates of 14 percent or more.

“It’s largely an unfortunate coincidence,” says Daren Blomquist, vice president of RealtyTrac, referring to the water disaster unfolding there. “But there are some correlations. A place like Flint is losing population, has a lot of blighted areas, and has become a forgotten city on many issues. It’s a city on the decline and that’s evident in the vacancy numbers.”

Related: The 12 States with the Hottest Housing Markets 

Blomquist noted that the vacancy rate in many of the top cities is a sign of underlying economic problems that has resulted in a mass exodus in homeowners and renters to other cities with better job prospects. Many of these vacant properties aren’t just empty, he says. They are in very poor shape and often in unlivable condition. The high vacancy rates also hurt property values of occupied homes in the immediate neighborhood and, to a lesser degree, in the city.

By contrast, metro areas with low vacancy rates reflect a booming economy, where jobs are attracting new homeowners and renters, he says. Often, there are geographic or regulatory restraints on new home construction that depress the rate even more.

Nationwide, more than 1.3 million residential properties were vacant in February, down from 1.5 million in September 2015. The vacancy rate fell from 1.8 percent to 1.6 percent during that time, according to the report. Investment properties were the most likely to be vacant, with a 4.3 percent vacancy rate. The vacancy rate for bank-owned properties was 3.4 percent and 1.5 percent for “zombie” foreclosures, homes that were vacated by the owners before banks took over the houses.

RealtyTrac reviewed the vacancy status of 85 million U.S. homes in metropolitan statistical areas with at least 100,000 residential properties. Here are the 10 metro areas with worst vacancy rates.

10. Birmingham, Alabama
342,922 total homes
10,909 vacant homes
3.2 percent vacancy rate

9. Montgomery, Alabama
118,793 total homes
3,949 vacant homes
3.3 percent vacancy rate

8. Port St. Lucie, Florida
173,209 total homes
6,130 vacant homes
3.5 percent vacancy rate

7. Toledo, Ohio
204,881 total homes
7,332 vacant homes
3.6 percent vacancy rate

5. Mobile, Alabama (tied)
134,694 total homes
4,920 vacant homes
3.7 percent vacancy rate

5. Atlantic City, New Jersey (tied)
112,765 total homes
4,191 vacant homes
3.7 percent vacancy rate

4. Beaumont, Texas
124,939 total homes
4,695 vacant homes
3.8 percent vacancy rate

3. Youngstown, Ohio
156,861 total homes
6,979 vacant homes
4.4 percent vacancy rate

2. Detroit, Michigan
1,539,609 total homes
81,190 vacant homes
5.3 percent vacancy rate

1. Flint, Michigan
154,137 total homes
11,605 vacant homes
7.5 percent vacancy rate