An abandoned old house. Adobe Stock / Jamie Wilson

In “The Empty House Next Door”, a new housing study from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Alan Moloch analyzes the nature and concentration of vacant housing in American cities – particularly in “legacy cities”, defined in this study as “the former industrial centers of the American heartland.”

Of these legacy cities, Gary, Ind. has the highest concentration of census tracts designated as “Other Vacant”, with just over 65% of the city’s land composed of vacant property. It is closely followed by Detroit, Mich. at just under 65% and Flint, Mich. at just under 60%.

When vacancies rise above approximately 20% of an area’s total properties, the number of vacant buildings and lots may continue to grow indefinitely. Although vacancies rarely reach 100 percent—because even the most distressed neighbor- hood may have a few long-term owners—the market effectively ceases to function. Houses sell, if they sell at all, only to investors at rock bottom prices while the neighborhoods become areas of concentrated poverty, unemployment, and health problems.

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