Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



As a result of the 2007-2011 mortgage crisis, cities across the US experienced an unprecedented increase in housing vacancy. Since 2012, the broad national housing market has generally experienced a recovery, but it has been a highly uneven recovery. This paper focuses on changes in neighborhood-level, long-term vacancy rates from 2012 to 2019 in two critical regions of the US, the Sunbelt and the Rustbelt. We examine medium-sized and large metro areas in both regions. We focus particularly on the extent to which very high rates of neighborhood-level housing vacancy persisted during the recovery. Perhaps unsurprisingly, long-term, very high levels of neighborhood housing vacancy appear to have persisted more in Rustbelt than in Sunbelt metros from 2012 to 2019. Sunbelt metros tended to see more population and housing price growth and greater declines in vacancy, especially in the number of very high and extreme vacancy neighborhoods. However, neighborhoods with high vacancy rates are not solely a feature of the Rustbelt. There are a substantial number of weak-growth metros in the Sunbelt, especially outside of California and Florida, in which very high levels of vacancy have remained a problem even in the face of a broader national recovery. In the Sunbelt and, in particular, the Rustbelt, neighborhoods with very high and, especially, extreme vacancy rates tend to have large Black populations and high poverty rates. Thus, the problem of hypervacancy appears strongly associated with the problem of racial and economic segregation. Given the new uncertainties in the housing market created by COVID-19, it is important to recognize that economic shock and the challenges families are facing in paying rent and mortgages, may spur a new round of vacancy challenges. It is also critical to recognize that very high levels of vacancy tend to be concentrated in higher-poverty communities of color, especially in Black neighborhoods, and thus those seeking to address housing justice, community development, and the racial wealth gap need to pay attention to the problem of hypervacancy. Understanding the trends in, and characteristics of, housing vacancy will aid policymakers and practitioners in their efforts to address this important issue.