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Ear to the Ground

Vacant Houses Outnumber Homeless People in U.S.

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Posted on Dec 31, 2011
bogieharmond (CC-BY)

Occupy Wall Street activists march with Brooklyn, N.Y., residents on Dec. 6 to protest foreclosures.

There are more than five times as many vacant homes in the U.S. as there are homeless people, according to Amnesty International USA. Since 2007, banks have shuttered about 8 million American houses, almost doubling the previous number, while 3.5 million homeless shiver in the cold. Experts expect 8 million to 10 million more foreclosures in the years ahead. —ARK

Human Rights Now:

In the last few days, the U.S. government census figures have revealed that 1 in 2 Americans have fallen into poverty or are struggling to live on low incomes. And we know that the financial hardships faced by our neighbors, colleagues, and others in our communities will be all the more acutely felt over the holiday season.

Along with poverty and low incomes, the foreclosure rate has created its own crisis situation as the number of families removed from their homes has skyrocketed.

Since 2007, banks have foreclosed around eight million homes. It is estimated that another eight to ten million homes will be foreclosed before the financial crisis is over.  This approach to resolving one part of the financial crisis means many, many families are living without adequate and secure housing.  In addition, approximately 3.5 million people in the U.S. are homeless, many of them veterans.  It is worth noting that, at the same time, there are 18.5 million vacant homes in the country.

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By MrYowler, January 5, 2012 at 8:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The reason that we don’t see government or banks taking steps to make housing available, is rooted in civil liability.  There are costs associated with making a house available for someone to live in; water/sewer services have to be turned on and paid for, inspections and repairs must be performed, and frequently, liability insurance must be purchased and paid for.  If you inherit a home that is distant from where you live, these activities will frequently prevent you from renting it out.  Additionally, the potential for tenant damage to the property, the potential need to evict non-paying renters, and the difficulty/expense of maintaining the property when things go wrong with it, frequently discourage such homeowners from accepting tenants.

Banks are not going to just let the former owners of these homes move back in and trash them, which is the obvious angry response to having your home taken from you by the bank.  People who have nothing, also have nothing to lose, nothing invested, and nothing to take away from them in the event of an eviction or other lawsuit.  All that anyone gains by housing the homeless, is liability and risk.  Social responsibility and moral satisfaction are difficult concepts to quantify to investors, who put their money in, hoping to get money back out.  A better approach might have been to make this a condition of the financial bailouts that these institutions have enjoyed - but it’s probably too late to do that, now that they already have the money.

A more universal approach might be to outlaw (or prohibitively restrict) the rental of real estate, and the securing of loans with real estate.  This would solve a lot of problems; it would force home ownership to become more affordable by eliminating the tool that props up outrageous property values; the capacity to buy more than you need or can afford, through debt-financing.  Housing prices that exceed the ready resources of individuals or families would result in houses that do not sell and cannot be rented, forcing sellers to bring pricing back into reach or watch their assets deteriorate.  Everyone would become a homeowner, and therefore have a motivator to take some pride in their homes.  It would hurt real estate property owners and banks badly (at least initially), but they’re the ones that we all just had to bail out - and the ones preventing these vacant homes from being occupied.  New home construction costs would largely dictate new home pricing, instead of them being dictated solely by what the market will bear.  This makes the construction and sale of affordable housing more-or-less as profitable as luxury housing, since luxury housing ceases to be reachable by buyers that cannot really afford it, through debt-financing - correspondingly reducing the market for luxury housing.

To really make it work, we would also need to eliminate real estate property taxes and mandatory services (if you are required to pay for water and sewer, then it becomes the new “rent”, in the same manner as property taxes do, when rental housing is eliminated), but the details can be worked out by the people that we hire to do that; the legislators.  At the center of correcting the housing and financial crisis, is a return to the independence of individual Americans; homesteading.  Since we no longer have a West for people to move into and homestead, universal home ownership is one possible alternative.

How many of the pioneers or founding fathers needed to worry about a banker taking their home away from them, with the support of their government and local law enforcement?

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By oddsox, January 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm Link to this comment

PatrickHenry, what you’re describing resembles the loan-mods that some (too few) homeowners are getting to avoid short sale and/or foreclosure. 

We agree, they’re a better alternative than someone losing their home. 

But the hard facts are these loan-mods take many months to process (much longer than they should!) and most of those who get them are back in trouble with their mortgages after 9 months. 
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?sid=aVYxPZ56vjys&pid=newsarchive

—-

@gerard:  I like your idea of the government paying off mortgage notes for wounded Vets or those KIA. 
Don’t know what that would cost, but a gracious place for us to start—and at least as good a stimulus as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, our so-called Stimulus.

...so how ARE banks dealing with Iraq/Afghanistan vets?  No surprise here:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/29/bank-of-america-illegal-foreclosures_n_1118471.html

Way past time to break up the big banks:
http://open.salon.com/blog/oddsox/2011/10/10/too_big_to_fail_too_big_to_begin_with

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By hummingbird, January 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm Link to this comment

Someone should do a fact check.  Based on the information I find, your vacant housing number is off by a factor of 10 or so—i.e. the correct figure is closer to 1.2 to 1.4 million vacant homes, not 18 million.

see: http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2011/12/excess-vacant-housing-supply.html

This is not to excuse the homelessness in the U.S.  Clearly, it is not acceptable.

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By PatrickHenry, January 1, 2012 at 7:04 pm Link to this comment

Oddsox,

For those who can afford them.

By allowing long term ‘bridge’ mortgages at bargain basement rates those who lost their jobs and those whose house payments balooned because of a promotional ARM would still have a home and could conceivably refinance to a shorter term rate in the future.

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By oddsox, January 1, 2012 at 6:56 pm Link to this comment

Patrick Henry, you write:
“Better paying a greatly reduced extended mortgage and have a home than lose it.”

Well, sure. 
But those aren’t the only two possible outcomes.

You may be right if you’re predicting 50- or 100-year mortgages.  We have 40-year mortgages available now.

But ask yourself:
Q: who designs these long-term mortgages and why?
A: bank actuaries for the purpose of higher bank profits.

The best mortgages, for those who can afford them,  are short-term.  10-yrs, 15-yrs, 20-yrs. 
The longer the mortgage term, the more interest the bank is likely to make.

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By gerard, January 1, 2012 at 5:48 pm Link to this comment

Interesting question:  How many veterans either were killed, maimed or returned (with or without PTSD) whose injuries and service should be honored in some tangible way?  How many of them are either homeless,  jobless or have family members who are homeless and/or jobless?

How many empty, near habitable houses could be bought by the Pentagon from present military budget funds and given—free—to veterans and families victimized by joblessness and foreclosures?

If something like this were done, how much of a dent would it make in present total homelessness? How much did the Iraq war average in costs per month, everything included? (just for comparison) 

Related question:  If vets paid with their lives (either because of death or injury) why shouldn’t the Pentagon be charged to repay their families and even if it means cutting back on developing further weapons and more wars to kill and injure more vets and their families?  How would such a move compare with previous GI Bill of Rights funding, etc.?

Advantages:  It’s the least we could do, and it’s a start toward treating the housing crisis—two birds with one stone, so to speak. It’s patriotic.  It’s humane. It would help ween us from depending almost entirely on the military-industrial complex to keep the economy going. Homes that need repairs would mean jobs for carpenters and construction workers. Improvements and occupancies would raise property value in declining neighborhoods. The spirits of millions of American middle-lower-middle class people would be raised from despair to hopefulness.

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By PatrickHenry, January 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm Link to this comment

oddsox,

Better paying a greatly reduced extended mortgage and have a home than lose it.

Just my take.

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By Rapalyea301, January 1, 2012 at 4:35 pm Link to this comment

Poetic Justice

If you don’t like the current world economic order, then you will really REALY be impressed by a Sino American cabal. We and the Chinese have no natural border disputes. We are basically indifferent to each others social organizations. We are both continental powers with persistent civilizations.

If bad comes to worse with the rest of you? Chuckle…..

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By Rapalyea301, January 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm Link to this comment

REH - You wrote: “Americans make a little over 4% of world population – but consumes over 40% of world’s resources.”

Thats because we have created a civilization with such productivity and so much wealth spread around we can AFFORD it. Perhaps in the not-to-distant future we will simply close the doors. Seriously. We have enough hydrocarbons to become independent in a single generation.

Then we can withdraw all of our military resources from “The Occupied Nations” and leave them to sort matters out for themselves. Personally, I am happy to leave you to the tender mercies of Latin America, China, and a Startled Japan.  And we could then decide who we would buy from and who we would sell to. With BIG premiums.

But make no mistake. We are a continental nation with all the resources we need to live without you bums. So if you think you can play Visigoth to our Rome? Bring it on you Son of a bitches.

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By Rapalyea301, January 1, 2012 at 4:04 pm Link to this comment

Vacant Houses Outnumber Homeless People in U.S.

So what the hell significance does this have?  I suppose you could stipulate that a properly qualified homeless person should be given the keys to one of these houses.

Then what? Who is going to pay the property taxes. Who is going to buy a lawn mower to keep the lawn green. Who will loose the residual value of the structure so that a homeless person can live there? Perhaps the family evicted for non payment just before the homeless guy go the keys?

Go someplace and sing Oh Holy Night. You bore me….

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By A Bird in the Hand, January 1, 2012 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment

bpawk: Are you a bankster?? You sure quack like one..

Or maybe one of the greedy rich.. perhaps you had a chance to do well and look down on those ‘not as smart as you’?..
You are not smart and you are no better than the folks that had the rug pulled out from under them by the economy..What comes around..Goes around..You will see this..

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By Rehmat, January 1, 2012 at 11:32 am Link to this comment

Americans make a little over 4% of world population – but consumes over 40% of world’s resources. The US has world’s highest numbers of billionaires (450) and millionaires (320,000) – but 80% of them belongs to country’s 1% rich minority. The new census data released shows that over 49 million Americans (16%) live below poverty line. America has the worst wealth inequality among the industrialized world.

America still is the largest economy ($14.6 trillion), thanks to US$ being world’s reserve currency. However, its military budget ($680 billion/year) for Zionists’ war has already bankrupted the nation. The world’s future emerging economies are China ($10 trillion), Japan ($4.3 trillion) and India ($4 trillion). According to World Bank’s projection – Asia and Africa will leave behind North America and Europe during the next few decades. That’s the main reason for Qaddafi to be eliminated…...

http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/ows-‘clash-of-financial-disparity’/

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By gerard, January 1, 2012 at 11:20 am Link to this comment

Why did I post suggestions about a nationwide plan for getting homeless people into houses from which they had been dispossessed?  Getting families into houses of some sort that is better than living in cars and on the streets? 
  The answer to that questioin is that I hoped others would point out viable possibilities and/or suggest alternatives. Why not?  For every drug-infested house there are ten non-drug infested houses. For every drug dealer, there are ten homeless kids.
  Why are comments so far only interested in pointing out why something can’t be done?  For example, Habitat has had millions of successes under all kinds of situations. Of course, out of all the successes there would be some problems—not due to the Habitat idea, but to the general decadence of neighborhoods, which is a closely related problem to homelessness that also needs to be repaired—drugs included. And there are also answers to that problem which have worked when they have been tried. But before they can work, they have to be tried.
  As to “people taking responsibility for their actions”—before that, people have to have jobs, meaningful work, ways in which they can feel they are valued as citizens before they can “take responsibility” for anything.  Joblessness, punishment for “failure”, being trapped in socially inflicted cul de sacs, and being looked down on are ways that prevent people from taking responsibility.
  Opportunities of all kinds are key, and we seem to have lost must of our vision of possibilities. Criticizing without offering possibilities is also s
form of “not taking responsibility,” by the way. 
  Renters “trashing” property is a whole different and serious problem, with reasons and solutions (which nobody seems to care to know about and hence it pesrists).  Not paying attention is the U.S. number one problem.  In the last couple decades, a national “laissez faire” attitude has become a disease that has killed democracy and responsibility.
Whenever I hear somebody talk about the lack of responsibility of renters, for instance, I think immediately about the grand, gross, hideous irresponsibility of both government and business from which all of us are suffering, more or less.
It all begins at the top, and if the top is rotten sooner or later the roots will die.
  To those who see nothing but the bad side, the disadvantages, etc., all I can say is “I’m sorry for you because you are making yourself miserable when you might otherwise give so much to life.”

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By Morpheus, January 1, 2012 at 11:10 am Link to this comment

It’s only going to get worse because our so called leaders and big business can’t fix this. We have to fix it.

“WAKE UP PEOPLE!” - JOIN THE REVOLUTION
Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( http://www.revolution2.osixs.org )

FIGHT THE CAUSE - NOT THE SYMPTOM
We don’t have to live like this anymore. “Spread the News”

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By oddsox, January 1, 2012 at 10:49 am Link to this comment

Patrick Henry:
100-year mortgages? 
How’d you like to inherit THAT?
The banks would love ‘em, though.

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By PatrickHenry, January 1, 2012 at 9:41 am Link to this comment

The Tokyo housing market was wildly overblown years ago and as a result 50 and 100 year mortgages were put into effect, they could even be inherited.

Time for that here.

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By oddsox, January 1, 2012 at 9:37 am Link to this comment

Patrick Henry:
“A room in return for upkeep of the property.”

It’s been happening, but it’s not widespread.
http://www.bankforeclosuressale.com/wp/article-0512815.html

Our recovery won’t be complete until the housing market gets right.  That won’t happen for at least another 2 years, probably 4-7, and maybe 10.
Still too many unresolved delinquencies, too many homeowners underwater (15 million give or take).

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By bpawk, January 1, 2012 at 8:43 am Link to this comment

The banks own the homes and they have a right not to want homeless people in their homes (would you take them in - I doubt it). You have to look to the system of government to effect change.

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By purplewolf, January 1, 2012 at 2:12 am Link to this comment

PatrickHenry: Renting sounds like a good idea, but most homeless people have no money and with the repug and their other fringe T.P.er’s cutting social programs and wanting to destroy social security, there would be more people with no money and we all know the bankers are not going to lower rents out of the kindness of their hearts because they don’t have hearts.

Bankers do not believe in a barter system. I read a few months back that the repug party is trying to restrict bartering as more and more people are joining in on the barter system and the gov. doesn’t like the fact that they are missing out on getting sales tax $$ on an item more than once. I have bartered with others for items and used to vend at powwows in a 5 state area and often we barter with other vendors if I had something another person wanted and they didn’t sell much, we just would check out each others sales booths and find what we liked and then negotiate at what we both felt was a fair trade and it;s also fun. Tough gov. but you probably got your sales tax in those items once, no double dipping.

Also many renters totally trash the places they are in. Most of the banks owning these house are across the country and often never see let alone make a physical examination of the property and many houses are turned over to 5 or 6 different banks or owners in just a few years. This is also one of the reasons there is so many false foreclosure as no one knows who has the paperwork for the houses and as we have seen lately these banks are deliberately foreclosing on houses they know are not really in foreclosure. But they are still stealing already paid off houses, houses they never owned and houses they cannot provide legal proof of ownership. Some people have had their paid off houses sold out underneath them, sheriffs have evicted people wrongly,some houses have been demolished incorrectly and there have even been houses demolished by the banks that they gave the wrong address to the demolition companies. One woman came home from work to find her house gone and the foreclosed house next to where hers used to be, still standing.

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By purplewolf, January 1, 2012 at 1:49 am Link to this comment

Gerard: Habitat for Humanity had a house 2 blocks from me that they fixed up, economy bad no one bought. It has been vandalized and broken into numerous times and boarded up, but the house keeps getting broke into. I work with the area crime watch and it is not the homeless so much as the drug dealers, people hiding fighting dogs and other illegal activity. I wish we could put many of the homeless into these houses, but I doubt the banks would allow it. in fact many of the banks are now demolishing foreclosed homes and leaving the empty lots for the cities to take back when the taxes are delinquent for 3 years.It is cheaper for them to raze the houses than to board them up, cut have the grass cut, they don’t have the sidewalks shoveled in winter as city codes require, pay taxes etc… Such a waste.

And while I am at it. How can they keep feeding that B.S. line about America that we’re number 1. We are not. Otherwise we would not have the mess we see today if we were #1.If we were #1, everyone would have a decent wage, affordable medical insurance, safe housing, enough of the right kinds of food, an infrastructure that is not disintegrating, good teachers and schools, enough police and not the pepper spraying idiots shown on the TV’s, firemen and not the rotating fire stations or brownout stations as my city has and more things then I can list here. Slowly some of the sheeple are waking up, but I have the feeling it is much to late to correct the problems either.

Two weeks ago when I was picked up by the cancer van for treatment, the driver took us to the east side of Flint. I had not been on that side of town since 1998. I was shocked at what it looks like. About 60% of the lots are empty where house stood 10 years ago or less. Out of the remaining houses about 25% of standing houses were boarded up it else stripped of all metals, broken windows and doors, very few houses left with people living in them. In one of Micheal Moore’s movies, I think it was Fahrenheit 911, it showed some of the areas in Flint that he said looked worse than many places in Iraq after G.W. destroyed that country. Well, I can officially say we are certainly well past being a 3rd world country, 5th or 6th at least. They finally did tear down the old AC to Delphi factory in the same area.

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By examinator, December 31, 2011 at 8:26 pm Link to this comment

Good point Hummingbird.
However, the salient point is that the current capitalistic system is failing too many people.
It seems to me that if one of the biggest economies in the world can’t provide for so many people then the system is broken.

By standard capitalist theory supply and demand determine the market price and construction.

I wonder how many of these vacant dwellings are due to foreclosures(failed mortgages,GFC)?

With so many un occupied homes it stands to reason that the building industry must be in a slump. No jobs…no money…no buyers etc.
One wonders why the government didn’t simply buy many of these homes at then the market rate (twopennies of nothing) and simply run a public housing co-operatives.The members of which would pay income determined rent/buy outs.
Let’s get real republicans private enterprise caused the problem and isn’t able to fix it ....time for another idea.

Not so many people homeless, less impact on communities… beyond critical mass spiral.
Less houses flooding the market more demand for new…more jobs to build,furnish etc…more money more demand et al.

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By hummingbird, December 31, 2011 at 6:27 pm Link to this comment

Someone should do a fact check.  Based on the information I find, your vacant housing number is off by a factor of 10 or so—i.e. the correct figure is closer to 1.2 to 1.4 million vacant homes, not 18 million.

see: http://www.calculatedriskblog.com/2011/12/excess-vacant-housing-supply.html

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By gerard, December 31, 2011 at 6:22 pm Link to this comment

Empty houses don’t do any good for anybody.  They are a burden even to their wealthy owners, maintenance costs, and tax-wise.  They even lower property values in entire neighborhoods.
  Not being able to think of ways to avoid of mitigate homelessness over this long period indicates a kind of national “slump” of what used to be proudly thought of as particular American virtues:
“ability to cope” or “inventiveness” or “practical know-how” or “cooperation for the common good.”  Have we lost those abilities entirely?  What about “barnwarmings” and “self help organizations”?
Why are we turning into people who prefer seeing others suffer while we turn our backs on the chance to help each other?

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By gerard, December 31, 2011 at 6:08 pm Link to this comment

Carter’s famous Habitat for Humanity has learned a lot of valuable information about affordable housing and I am absolutely sure would be glad to share it with any organization(s) that decided to take any one of a number of possible steps to put people back into homes where they have already invested thousands of hard-earned dollars, and then suddenly found themselves permanently unemployed and unable to renegotiate—through no fault of their own.

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By bpawk, December 31, 2011 at 4:28 pm Link to this comment

Sure people have a right to housing, but like everyone else and the way this world works, you have to pay for it. Good, prudent hard working people own houses - why should they just give homes or shelter for free to people who didn’t save, had too many kids they couldn’t afford, racked up debt etc. - we are rewarding the failed ones and punishing the good, prudent ones who sacrificed and scrimped and saved to own a home. Don’t reward failure - a lot of homeless people are drug or alcohol abusers or mentally ill or just plain lazy to work - some fell through the cracks from not saving enough, but again, don’t punish the good people of society to help the bad people - they have to take responsibility for their actions, as cruel as that is.  Ditto, by the way, for the Wall Street crowd, however Obama saw to it that they were looked after so keep this in mind when voting in November.

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By PatrickHenry, December 31, 2011 at 4:12 pm Link to this comment

I’m suprised that these bankers haven’t figured out a way to rent cheap rooms to mitigate their losses.  A room in return for upkeep of the property.

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By Marian Griffith, December 31, 2011 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

@Gerard

Please do not pander to the anti-semite stereotype of the jewish banker. It is an ugly stereotype that has played a large role in pogroms and in the holocaust, that also is entirely without factual basis.
Historically speaking the American bankers had all the regards for jews that the Nazis had. They certainly went out of their way to exclude them from the ‘old boys’ club. Nowadays religion or race plays little role in membership of that club. Only if you are rich enough to abuse the system and the people with impunity, and if you are without morals and compunctions to actually do so.

Besides, the whole neo-con mess of depression, the disappearance of the middle class and the unprecedented rise of poverty (and the likely lasting emergence of a subsisting majority of the population) is ugly enough that it does not need anti-semitism thrown into the mix.

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By gerard, December 31, 2011 at 3:23 pm Link to this comment

Who can believe that “a few Jewish banksters” can wield more power and more know-how than the millions of Americans who comprise the 99%?

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By A Bird in the Hand, December 31, 2011 at 3:06 pm Link to this comment

These homes now fully belong to the jewish Banksters who stole them..And they would sooner bulldoze them than EVER let one American citizen occupy them…

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By gerard, December 31, 2011 at 2:39 pm Link to this comment

OWS and/or any other state or national organization (or combination of several) could work locally, combining efforts to reclaim empty properties and/or reclaim homes from which people had been evicted. The long precedent-setting experience of Habitat for Humanity would be a great help right from the beginning.
  A month-by-month, year-long campaign (perhaps under a heading like “Homes for the Holidays”)  might be used as impetus, with goal-setting banners such as “Home for Valentines’ Day”, “Home for Groundhog Day”, “Home for Easter”, “Home for May Day” etc. Combined efforts could yield expertise based on recorded experiences, trials and errors, best practices, etc. so the movement would build on the basis of trial-and-error.
Such a campaign would have very personal emotional appeal and engage much cooperation.  Although the issues behind homelessness are political, the simple fact of saving families from destitution goes beyond political bickering and supercedes it.
  By engaging the efforts of people with a variety of related skills, and garnering know-how, avoiding pitfalls legal and financial, much-needed information would be accumulatd and intercanged,  adding to the practical how-to which is now lacking.
  Information gained would be of great value in solving political/economic problems with improved legislation—which would lead toward the ultimate goal of “housing justice” or “ending homelessness in America”.

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