Metros with the most unoccupied homes in America

December 14, 2021
ThomasPhoto // Shutterstock

Metros with the most unoccupied homes in America

There are many reasons why a community can wind up with too many houses and not enough people to live in them. Sometimes, it’s a simple case of population loss or an economic downturn that leads to a rash of foreclosures. Other times, there are larger forces at work, like developers overbuilding in anticipation of a housing boom that never materializes. For many regions, COVID-19 has swiftly and drastically impacted the housing market, causing a shortage of affordable housing for most, and an opportunity for second or even third homes for others. No matter the case, a glut of housing inventory can spell bad news for a neighborhood, a town, or an entire metro region.

According to a CityLab report based on a recent study by the Center for Community Progress, a nationwide epidemic of unoccupied homes is “America’s other housing crisis.” The report cites the “staggering economic and social costs” that mass vacancies tend to create for the communities they affect. It also points out that the 2008 recession sent the number of vacant homes soaring by 26% between 2005 and 2010, from 9.5 million to 12 million. While that number has since declined, the number of vacancies has never returned to the pre-recession lows in the ensuing decade.

In that time, the dynamic has shifted. Vacant homes were long associated with economically distressed urban centers often described with the umbrella term “inner city.” Today, however, vacancies are the bane of small towns. In post-recession America, rural areas suffer from vacancy rates that are double those found in metropolitan regions.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey released in December 2020 (the most recent available), Stacker compiled a list of the 50 metro areas with the most unoccupied homes. Metro areas are ranked by the percentage of unoccupied homes out of all the homes in each metro area. Ties were broken by the total number of unoccupied homes in the metro area as a whole.

Keep reading to find out about the metro areas where residents are most likely to live next to an empty house, and what factors are contributing to the vacancies.

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#50. Hilo, HI

- Total homes in metro area: 89,361
- Total unoccupied homes: 18,168 (20.3% of all homes in metro)
--- Homes for rent: 1,531 (8.4% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 738 (4.1% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,572 (8.7% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 39 (0.2% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 8,973 (49.4% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 5,315 (29.3% of total)

A volcanic eruption on May 3, 2018, forced the vacancy of many permanent residents and vacation rentals around Hilo. An $84 million housing buyout program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was created in 2021 to buy back land from homeowners affected by the eruption, allowing them to find new permanent housing, which could improve vacancy rates in the area.

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#49. Homosassa Springs, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 80,902
- Total unoccupied homes: 16,454 (20.3% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,272 (7.7% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 146 (0.9% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,974 (12.0% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 161 (1.0% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 8,520 (51.8% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 4,381 (26.6% of total)

Forty-six percent of Florida residents struggled to pay for basics like food, housing, and transportation in 2019. In Citrus County, where Homosassa Springs is located, the situation is even more dire, with one in two residents struggling just to pay for necessities. The city was recently noted as one of the top 10 “most miserable cities” in the country based on the Sharecare Community Well-Being Index, which looks at 600 proven health risk factors. In places where necessities are a struggle, empty houses tend to be plenty.

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#48. Cumberland, MD-WV

- Total homes in metro area: 45,883
- Total unoccupied homes: 9,453 (20.6% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,647 (17.4% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 161 (1.7% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 471 (5.0% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 26 (0.3% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 2,364 (25.0% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 30 (0.3% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 4,754 (50.3% of total)

Just over two hours from Washington, D.C., one of the most expensive housing markets in the United States is Cumberland, Maryland, where the median home price was just over $119,000 in November 2021. However, prices skyrocketed more than 36% in 2021, potentially contributing to more vacant properties as lower-income residents in this town—which ranks as the poorest in the state—are priced out of the market. As early as 2007—before the Great Recession and the housing crash—local leaders were working to tighten regulations on the region’s increasing number of vacant nuisance properties.

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#47. Wenatchee, WA

- Total homes in metro area: 56,052
- Total unoccupied homes: 11,574 (20.6% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,578 (13.6% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 777 (6.7% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 7,201 (62.2% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 557 (4.8% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 1,461 (12.6% of total)

This city in the center of Washington state is experiencing the pressures of skyrocketing housing prices that many other regions in the U.S. are also facing. Median home prices in Wenatchee, Washington rose by more than $70,000 in a single year, making buying or even renting a challenge for many, and thus leaving some properties empty and residents without a permanent home.

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#46. Niles, MI

- Total homes in metro area: 77,902
- Total unoccupied homes: 16,093 (20.7% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,306 (8.1% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 690 (4.3% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 809 (5.0% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 282 (1.8% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 9,553 (59.4% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 105 (0.7% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,348 (20.8% of total)

Niles, Michigan, has been one of the fastest-shrinking cities in the U.S., according to census data. An exodus from any region that isn’t also in high demand leaves vacant properties that are difficult to fill. The cannabis industry is boosting commercial development and creating jobs, which is resulting in more demand for housing, and likely fewer empty homes.

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#45. Olean, NY

- Total homes in metro area: 41,741
- Total unoccupied homes: 8,685 (20.8% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 586 (6.7% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 237 (2.7% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 83 (1.0% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 5,669 (65.3% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 14 (0.2% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 2,096 (24.1% of total)

In 2019, city officials identified a lack of luxury, market-rate housing—either to own or rent—coupled with Olean, New York’s dated housing supply as major reasons for vacancies in the region. Professionals who might be considering a move to Olean, particularly those with higher incomes, do not have many desirable options. The city’s aging population and workforce were identified as another looming risk for the area’s housing market.

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#44. Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ

- Total homes in metro area: 128,951
- Total unoccupied homes: 26,976 (20.9% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,961 (7.3% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 365 (1.4% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,513 (5.6% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,147 (4.3% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 17,040 (63.2% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 4,950 (18.3% of total)

The Press of Atlantic City in 2019 described a town trapped in the shadow of a dying casino industry, where trash-strewn streets, crime, blight, and rows of empty houses are the norm. That town was the once-vibrant tourist destination of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Despite a nine-figure redevelopment project completed in 2018, Atlantic City’s growing tally of dead casinos are physical reminders of how the city morphed into a landscape of blighted, abandoned houses left to fester when tens of thousands of casino jobs left the city. Another town in Atlantic County, Pleasantville, recently implemented a program to minimize health and public safety risks created by abandoned homes.

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#43. Corning, NY

- Total homes in metro area: 49,796
- Total unoccupied homes: 10,513 (21.1% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 747 (7.1% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 94 (0.9% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 514 (4.9% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 387 (3.7% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 5,466 (52.0% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,305 (31.4% of total)

In May 2021, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a $25 million initiative called the Legacy Cities Initiative to renovate blighted structures into move-in-ready homes in communities across Upstate New York. Many upstate regions like Corning, New York, were once manufacturing hubs. When those operations moved or closed, the host cities were left gutted.

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#42. Fort Payne, AL

- Total homes in metro area: 31,606
- Total unoccupied homes: 6,726 (21.3% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 401 (6.0% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 237 (3.5% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 111 (1.7% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 71 (1.1% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 750 (11.2% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 5,156 (76.7% of total)

Real estate prices in Fort Payne, Alabama, were up more than 30% year over year as of November 2021, just one year after numbers were down 12%. Because of this, the reasons for unoccupied homes have shifted—it’s more likely that new prices have become unaffordable for some residents, pushing them to other towns. Unlike some of the other spots on the list, empty homes are not especially likely to be used recreationally or seasonally.

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#41. Tuscaloosa, AL

- Total homes in metro area: 115,441
- Total unoccupied homes: 24,580 (21.3% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,886 (7.7% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 1,125 (4.6% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 386 (1.6% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 385 (1.6% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 12,962 (52.7% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 55 (0.2% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 7,781 (31.7% of total)

More than a decade after a devastating tornado, parts of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, still haven’t recovered, and the city has lost about 5% of its residents, according to census data. Some homeowners couldn’t rebuild because the redevelopment plan’s rules prevented them from doing so. Barren business districts don’t encourage people to move to the area, either.

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#40. Indiana, PA

- Total homes in metro area: 39,020
- Total unoccupied homes: 8,316 (21.3% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,727 (32.8% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 423 (5.1% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,850 (22.2% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 877 (10.5% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 2,439 (29.3% of total)

Indiana, Pennsylvania, is just one metro area in the state that is experiencing a consistent population decline. Nearby Johnstown is seeing many of its historic Victorian homes demolished or sitting vacant and falling into disrepair. But sometimes, the right buyers prove that these oft-forgotten regions can be revitalized into bustling downtowns for a mere fraction of the cost of buying or renting a property in a more urban setting.

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CtMh67810 // Wikimedia Commons

#39. Meadville, PA

- Total homes in metro area: 45,003
- Total unoccupied homes: 9,616 (21.4% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,007 (10.5% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 139 (1.4% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 184 (1.9% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,143 (11.9% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 5,882 (61.2% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 1,261 (13.1% of total)

Vacant housing in Meadville, Pennsylvania, is the product of several converging factors, including residents moving to more populated neighboring counties, homes falling into disrepair, and, according to a Crawford County housing plan, blighted buildings throughout the region itself bringing property values down. The report also attributes a significant portion of vacancies to seasonal use properties.

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#38. Jacksonville, NC

- Total homes in metro area: 81,076
- Total unoccupied homes: 17,472 (21.6% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,413 (8.1% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 435 (2.5% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,207 (6.9% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 489 (2.8% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 4,343 (24.9% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 9,585 (54.9% of total)

According to a 2020 study, the county and the city of Jacksonville, North Carolina, need additional housing for families in all income brackets—roughly 1,400 units to meet demand. One major complex does exist but is largely empty. Built in the 1950s, Town Center Apartments is a 694-unit complex that provides affordable housing for many people on a fixed or low income. More than 430 of those units are vacant after falling into disrepair.

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#37. Lake Havasu City-Kingman, AZ

- Total homes in metro area: 116,201
- Total unoccupied homes: 25,106 (21.6% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 473 (1.9% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 234 (0.9% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,010 (4.0% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 614 (2.4% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 19,279 (76.8% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,496 (13.9% of total)

As with so many other metro areas on this list, the rise of unoccupied homes in and around Lake Havasu, Arizona, directly correlates to an increased lack of affordable housing. “Families at median income levels are being priced out of new home markets,” according to the Associated Press, and Lake Havasu City has the highest rents in Mohave County.

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#36. Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 304,440
- Total unoccupied homes: 65,811 (21.6% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 5,620 (8.5% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 1,452 (2.2% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 4,465 (6.8% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,906 (2.9% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 43,287 (65.8% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 280 (0.4% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 8,801 (13.4% of total)

Lakeland, Florida, is a microcosm of America’s affordable-housing crisis. Stagnant wages are bumping into soaring home prices, forcing far too many people to compete for far too few affordable-housing units. A direct side effect of this dynamic in Lakeland and beyond is that a rash of now unaffordable homes sits empty due to a lack of buyers or renters who can afford them.

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#35. Yuma, AZ

- Total homes in metro area: 94,648
- Total unoccupied homes: 20,606 (21.8% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,343 (6.5% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 10 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 272 (1.3% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 276 (1.3% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 15,184 (73.7% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 358 (1.7% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,163 (15.3% of total)

Long a destination for retirees and others seeking cheap housing, much of Arizona is now experiencing rapid population growth and a housing boom. Many of the houses being built, however, are beyond the financial reach of many residents who have always been there—in Yuma, Arizona, and beyond. Although new homes are being built, the price of existing homes in some places is rising so quickly that they’re sitting empty because of a lack of qualified buyers.

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#34. Pittsfield, MA

- Total homes in metro area: 69,223
- Total unoccupied homes: 15,431 (22.3% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,124 (7.3% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 177 (1.1% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 467 (3.0% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 701 (4.5% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 9,807 (63.6% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,155 (20.4% of total)

Pittsfield, Massachusetts, is so awash in unoccupied homes that in 2018, it created a task force charged with a “slow and costly effort to rid the city of ghost dwellings that depress neighborhoods and invite crime.” The main contributor to the crisis is poverty. In a separate report, The Berkshire Eagle noted that many vacant homes can be attributed to growing economic inequality and a lack of high-paying jobs. All of this is taking place amid a backdrop of a strong tourism economy and a boom in second-home purchases. Three years later, the city was still addressing how accessibility, affordability, availability, and sustainability contribute to real estate woes.

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#33. Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 82,262
- Total unoccupied homes: 18,345 (22.3% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,484 (13.5% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 914 (5.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,569 (8.6% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 761 (4.1% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 9,232 (50.3% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,385 (18.5% of total)

It’s hard to say exactly what’s behind the large number of unoccupied houses in the region of Sebastian-Vero Beach, Florida, but one thing is certain: renting there is no picnic. High demand and low inventory have sent rental prices skyward, according to VeroNews.com. Seasonal residents are frequently staying longer throughout the year and many aging baby boomers who regularly vacation there are now making the region their permanent home.

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#32. Sebring-Avon Park, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 56,119
- Total unoccupied homes: 12,768 (22.8% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 382 (3.0% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 2,015 (15.8% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 193 (1.5% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 8,306 (65.1% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 640 (5.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 1,232 (9.6% of total)

In 2020, Avon Park, Florida, was ranked as the worst place to live in the state, according to data from the FBI, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Census Bureau. Avon Park had one of the lowest median home values when compared with the other lowest values in every state, and the second-highest five-year average unemployment. This could explain why occupancy rates are low.

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#31. Glens Falls, NY

- Total homes in metro area: 69,928
- Total unoccupied homes: 16,242 (23.2% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,049 (6.5% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 91 (0.6% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 425 (2.6% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 187 (1.2% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 11,139 (68.6% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,351 (20.6% of total)

In 2018, an official inventory found 98 properties scattered around Glens Falls, New York—some very nice and in good shape—abandoned or unoccupied. More than half were bank-owned foreclosures or going through the process of bank foreclosure. Many more are at risk and could soon be added to the growing unoccupied list. According to the Post Star, part of the problem is that financial firms bundle mortgages as securities, squeeze as much profit from them as possible, and by the time they offload them, the properties are so laden with debt that no buyer could make money by purchasing them.

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#30. Brunswick, GA

- Total homes in metro area: 62,209
- Total unoccupied homes: 14,479 (23.3% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,874 (12.9% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 756 (5.2% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 396 (2.7% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 6,474 (44.7% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 4,979 (34.4% of total)

A familiar dynamic is at play in Brunswick, Georgia, and the phrase of the day, once again, is affordable housing—or more accurately, a lack thereof. According to standard income-to-loan borrowing recommendations, the average home price in Brunswick should be about $140,000, but the median sale price is closer to $190,000. Home values are rising faster than incomes, foreclosures are on the rise, and more homes are sitting empty for longer periods of time.

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#29. Somerset, PA

- Total homes in metro area: 38,587
- Total unoccupied homes: 9,131 (23.7% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 322 (3.5% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 321 (3.5% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 486 (5.3% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 216 (2.4% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 5,107 (55.9% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 2,679 (29.3% of total)

Some small and economically-depressed regions of Pennsylvania decided to embrace the unstoppable exodus and new appetite for rural, small-town life. The Cambria Regional Chamber of Commerce promoted the counties of Cambria and Somerset (home to the city of Somerset), as ideal pandemic retreats, viewing this as an opportunity to revitalize the region dotted with abandoned homes and vacant lots. The Chamber’s Work From Home grant program offered 10 families $2,500 to offset the cost of moving and an additional $2,500 in benefits customized for each family.

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#28. Alamogordo, NM

- Total homes in metro area: 31,945
- Total unoccupied homes: 7,812 (24.5% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 934 (12.0% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 295 (3.8% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 29 (0.4% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,018 (13.0% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 2,716 (34.8% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 140 (1.8% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 2,680 (34.3% of total)

Poverty could be a contributing factor to the number of vacant homes in Alamogordo, New Mexico: The rate there is 19.7%, compared to the nationwide rate of 11.4%, as reported by the Census Bureau. Many homes could be out of reach for residents who lack financial resources. Alamogordo is home to the Holloman Air Force Base, which has been home to thousands of Afghan refugees since August 2021. It is unclear if any of these refugees will be permanently resettled in Alamogordo or other New Mexico towns.

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#27. Orangeburg, SC

- Total homes in metro area: 42,940
- Total unoccupied homes: 10,811 (25.2% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 522 (4.8% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 871 (8.1% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 63 (0.6% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 2,041 (18.9% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 7,314 (67.7% of total)

Over the last decade, the population of Orangeburg, South Carolina, has declined by nearly 9%, according to census data, which is leading to vacant properties. In other regions of South Carolina that are also experiencing issues with unoccupied homes, registries and annual fines for vacant properties have been established to keep track of and curb crime related to this type of property.

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#26. North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 448,252
- Total unoccupied homes: 115,670 (25.8% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 18,447 (15.9% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 1,933 (1.7% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 7,661 (6.6% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 2,169 (1.9% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 73,628 (63.7% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 11,832 (10.2% of total)

Sarasota, Florida, is part of one of the fastest-growing regions in the United States, according to U.S News & World Report, with houses and condos popping up across the area to make room for inward migration averaging 14 new residents a day. Still, the region has a high rate of unoccupied homes. That’s because, following a familiar theme, a lack of affordable housing has priced out average Sarasota residents while wealthy newcomers and retirees snap up new, expensive houses, leaving the landscape dotted with empty older homes that new arrivals don’t want and longtime residents can’t afford.

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#25. Martinsville, VA

- Total homes in metro area: 32,962
- Total unoccupied homes: 8,514 (25.8% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,342 (15.8% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 729 (8.6% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 268 (3.1% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 488 (5.7% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 5,687 (66.8% of total)

A recent housing study commissioned by the city council of Martinsville, Virginia, revealed that the area is on the precipice of a severe housing shortage. There is significant demand for new residential buildings, specifically rental properties. Many of the people who work in Martinsville live in neighboring towns because of a lack of housing availability. Even if more homes within Martinsville were to come on the market, close to 10% of owner-occupied homes and 23% of rental properties have major issues, likely making them undesirable.

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#24. Athens, TX

- Total homes in metro area: 41,914
- Total unoccupied homes: 11,307 (27.0% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 434 (3.8% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 45 (0.4% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,293 (11.4% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 875 (7.7% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 5,326 (47.1% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,334 (29.5% of total)

The number of vacant homes in Athens, Texas, has been almost continually climbing in recent years, moving from 9.5% in 2014 to 15% in 2019, according to the U.S Census Bureau. Poverty is almost definitely a contributing factor—more than 30% or area residents have incomes under the poverty line, leaving them in a challenging situation to afford available housing.

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#23. Hilton Head Island-Bluffton, SC

- Total homes in metro area: 115,366
- Total unoccupied homes: 31,272 (27.1% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 3,466 (11.1% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 376 (1.2% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,428 (4.6% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 102 (0.3% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 22,573 (72.2% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,327 (10.6% of total)

Unlike other metro areas on this list, the population of Bluffton, South Carolina, more than doubled over the last decade. To match the population growth, housing units increased by 109% over the same period, according to data from the Census Bureau. Housing vacancy increased by nearly 10%. The Hilton Head Island-Bluffton region has a large seasonal community, which accounts for a large portion of unoccupied units.

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#22. Flagstaff, AZ

- Total homes in metro area: 67,491
- Total unoccupied homes: 18,498 (27.4% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,659 (14.4% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 175 (0.9% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 905 (4.9% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 11,971 (64.7% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 2,788 (15.1% of total)

It’s clear what’s behind the ever-growing clusters of empty houses in Flagstaff, Arizona. Second-home owners now account for 25% of the city’s housing stock, a huge influx of Northern Arizona University students has driven up rental rates, and the region’s population is growing rapidly—and house flippers have long been cashing in on that growth.

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#21. Truckee-Grass Valley, CA

- Total homes in metro area: 54,825
- Total unoccupied homes: 15,460 (28.2% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 850 (5.5% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,155 (7.5% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 468 (3.0% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 11,863 (76.7% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 1,124 (7.3% of total)

As with so many places on this list and throughout the country, Truckee, California, is in a state of flux. Dotted with new residential construction projects, a region that once had a small town feel is becoming increasingly expensive—often too expensive. Affordable housing for renters or middle-class purchases is scarce, even as many homes in this resort town remain vacant. Homeowners are being encouraged to rent their homes to locals via a grant program that awards them $10,000 for renting to tenants with household incomes up to 150% of the area’s median income.

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#20. Punta Gorda, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 107,124
- Total unoccupied homes: 30,535 (28.5% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 3,256 (10.7% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 555 (1.8% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,160 (3.8% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 542 (1.8% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 21,449 (70.2% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,573 (11.7% of total)

Few places in the country were hit harder by the 2008 housing crash than the posh vacation communities near Punta Gorda, Florida, with homes in resort areas losing as much as 50% of their value. Today, money is flowing back into those resort areas, as well as into the Punta Gorda metro—but perhaps that money has flowed back in too quickly for the affordable housing index to keep up. According to Zillow, the home value index there was $131,000 in 2012. By late 2021, it had skyrocketed to more than $363,000.

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#19. Lebanon, NH-VT

- Total homes in metro area: 126,985
- Total unoccupied homes: 36,970 (29.1% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 3,030 (8.2% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 124 (0.3% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 589 (1.6% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 628 (1.7% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 29,316 (79.3% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,283 (8.9% of total)

The number of people from out of state who purchased a home in the Upper Valley region increased by 38% from 2019 to 2020. That growth was driven overwhelmingly by the COVID-19 pandemic as people from not-too-distant cities like New York and Boston fled the urban hubs. Not only is there a severe shortage of available homes for purchase, but there is also a rental market that is nearly impossible to penetrate. Many property owners who have historically rented out units in the region are cashing in on the hot real estate market and instead of putting them up for sale. Large portions of the properties in Lebanon—which spans New Hampshire and Vermont—are also tied up as seasonal or vacation homes.

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#18. Traverse City, MI

- Total homes in metro area: 86,140
- Total unoccupied homes: 25,202 (29.3% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,360 (5.4% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 90 (0.4% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 446 (1.8% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 102 (0.4% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 21,357 (84.7% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 38 (0.2% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 1,809 (7.2% of total)

Traverse City, Michigan, is simultaneously facing a housing shortage and an abundance of homes that are vacant for a majority of the year, or “dark houses,” as some experts in the real estate industry call it. Seasonal homes and short-term rentals are common in Traverse City. Its wide variety of offerings like skiing, freshwater beaches, dunes, and city life make it an ideal second home for those who can afford it, taking those properties off the market for people looking to live there permanently.

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#17. Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 408,569
- Total unoccupied homes: 121,682 (29.8% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 8,264 (6.8% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 1,269 (1.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 5,819 (4.8% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 2,389 (2.0% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 92,767 (76.2% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 456 (0.4% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 10,718 (8.8% of total)

Lee County, Florida, is home to Cape Coral and Fort Myers, and it was the epicenter of the housing crash of 2008—CNN called it “America’s foreclosure capital.” In a slow, but still astonishing recovery, both construction and foreclosures have all but returned to their pre-recession levels. Today, nearly 89,000 of the region’s unoccupied homes are not bank-owned foreclosures, but seasonal or recreational homes.

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#16. Daphne-Fairhope-Foley, AL

- Total homes in metro area: 119,425
- Total unoccupied homes: 37,100 (31.1% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 17,935 (48.3% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 133 (0.4% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 2,364 (6.4% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,585 (4.3% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 10,707 (28.9% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 4,376 (11.8% of total)

Zillow ranks the real estate climate in Daphne, Alabama, as a market that’s been witnessing a solid and consistent rise in property values. For many others across the entire state of Alabama, hot markets make affordable housing even harder to come by, which can quickly lead to an increase in unoccupied homes.

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#15. East Stroudsburg, PA

- Total homes in metro area: 81,828
- Total unoccupied homes: 25,554 (31.2% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,188 (4.6% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 424 (1.7% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,812 (7.1% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 226 (0.9% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 19,553 (76.5% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 2,351 (9.2% of total)

Nearly one in three homes in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, is unoccupied, but about 70% of the homes are seasonal or recreational. That’s because East Stroudsburg is in Monroe Country in the heart of the Poconos, Pennsylvania’s premier ski/outdoors/vacation destination. Monroe County’s Airbnb rentals make it appear that many homes there are unoccupied when, in fact, they are continuously occupied by paying peer-to-peer rental customers.

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#14. Watertown-Fort Drum, NY

- Total homes in metro area: 60,160
- Total unoccupied homes: 18,946 (31.5% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,769 (9.3% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,157 (6.1% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 186 (1.0% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 12,092 (63.8% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,742 (19.8% of total)

As early as 2016, housing prices were declining in Watertown, New York, which already had over 150 abandoned homes at the time. Part of the problem was that many of them already had long been sitting vacant by the time they went into foreclosure. They then arrived on the market in a state of disrepair, making them harder to sell even at a steep loss, which further dragged down already-sinking housing prices. One of Watertown’s ZIP codes was in the top five nationwide at the beginning of 2021 in terms of the rate of owner evictions.

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#13. Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 153,439
- Total unoccupied homes: 50,867 (33.2% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 10,820 (21.3% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 474 (0.9% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,738 (3.4% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 594 (1.2% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 27,725 (54.5% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 9,516 (18.7% of total)

Heavy construction equipment smashing derelict homes has become a fairly common sight in the Crestview, Florida, region, as officials authorize abandoned homes to be demolished to make way for new affordable housing. The proliferation of unoccupied homes, however, is not all about blight. More than 23,000 of the metro area’s unoccupied homes are owned for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use.

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#12. Show Low, AZ

- Total homes in metro area: 58,501
- Total unoccupied homes: 19,769 (33.8% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 696 (3.5% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 149 (0.8% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 319 (1.6% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 243 (1.2% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 12,996 (65.7% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 5,366 (27.1% of total)

Show Low, Arizona, is largely a seasonal community, with a population that grows by more than 14 times during peak tourist season. Like the rest of the state, Show Low is facing a shortage of available affordable housing, but grants like Home Matters to Arizona are working to offset this deficit in places like Navajo County, where Show Low is located.

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#11. Panama City, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 104,764
- Total unoccupied homes: 35,569 (34.0% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,563 (4.4% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 607 (1.7% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 868 (2.4% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 537 (1.5% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 21,504 (60.5% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 10,490 (29.5% of total)

In 2018, Hurricane Michael reorganized the housing dynamic in and around Panama City, Florida. Many of the unoccupied homes are vacant because they were damaged or destroyed by the storm, and the properties that survived were soon renting for much more than usual. The Panama City News Herald penned a telling headline to tell the tale: “Beach price for county property.”

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#10. Salisbury, MD-DE

- Total homes in metro area: 254,749
- Total unoccupied homes: 87,915 (34.5% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,243 (2.6% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 661 (0.8% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 3,081 (3.5% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,044 (1.2% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 70,469 (80.2% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 10,417 (11.8% of total)

As recently as 2017, Delmarva Now was calling overstretched renters the “unofficial emblem” of Salisbury, which spans Maryland and Delaware. In the 10 years that elapsed between the start of the recession in 2007 and the publishing of that report, the percentage of “burdened” renters—those spending more than 30% of their income on housing—jumped from 40% to 57%. Salisbury is one town that could benefit from the shift to remote work as broadband becomes more reliable and affordable, attracting residents to live in now-vacant homes.

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#9. Sevierville, TN

- Total homes in metro area: 58,730
- Total unoccupied homes: 20,797 (35.4% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,946 (9.4% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 990 (4.8% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 326 (1.6% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 289 (1.4% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 14,109 (67.8% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 256 (1.2% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 2,881 (13.9% of total)

The Great Smoky Mountains wildfires of 2016 significantly impacted Sevierville, Tennessee, destroying more than 2,000 buildings. Later, the economic impacts of COVID-19 put an even greater strain on the tourist town and its annual residents. But Money Talks News still named the town one of the “best cities to own a vacation rental,” and homeowners seem to agree: More than two-thirds of the homes in the area are set aside for the benefit of travelers.

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#8. Marinette, WI-MI

- Total homes in metro area: 45,347
- Total unoccupied homes: 16,198 (35.7% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 201 (1.2% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 540 (3.3% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 34 (0.2% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 13,370 (82.5% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 2,053 (12.7% of total)

Marinette, a metro that extends into Wisconsin and Michigan, is currently contending with dozens of potentially dangerous vacant homes that have fallen into disrepair. The metro area is also dealing with an affordable housing shortage for workers in the region’s tourism industry. Marinette County, where Marinette is located, was one of four counties selected by the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority for a new program that aims to create affordable housing solutions for workers. The fact that more than four out of five homes are available only part-time contributes to the problem.

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#7. Myrtle Beach-Conway-North Myrtle Beach, SC-NC

- Total homes in metro area: 309,922
- Total unoccupied homes: 111,277 (35.9% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 19,905 (17.9% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 870 (0.8% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 4,087 (3.7% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,465 (1.3% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 73,256 (65.8% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 11,694 (10.5% of total)

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a city of 35,000 residents with 18 million visitors, according to MyHorryNews.com. Regulations currently prohibit rentals of fewer than 30 days in some residentially zoned areas, but Airbnb is not banned in all neighborhoods. Because of that, and coupled with the fact that over 82,000 homes of the region’s “unoccupied” dwellings are seasonal or recreational, it sometimes appears that Myrtle Beach is a ghost town when it’s actually one of the most popular resort destinations on the East Coast.

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#6. Naples-Marco Island, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 222,289
- Total unoccupied homes: 81,711 (36.8% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,845 (3.5% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 761 (0.9% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 3,814 (4.7% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 1,219 (1.5% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 67,118 (82.1% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 269 (0.3% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 5,685 (7.0% of total)

Like other coastal cities on this list, Naples-Marco Island, Florida, is faced with both the immediate and distant repercussions of climate change, notably a greater number of hurricanes with increasing severity. Many Naples residents leave during hurricane season and warm summer months, accounting for the vast majority of temporarily unoccupied homes.

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#5. Brainerd, MN

- Total homes in metro area: 68,915
- Total unoccupied homes: 26,817 (38.9% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 175 (0.7% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 204 (0.8% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 424 (1.6% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 122 (0.5% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 24,520 (91.4% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 23 (0.1% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 1,349 (5.0% of total)

Crow Wing County, where Brainerd, Minnesota, is located, has hired two full-time staff members to tackle the region’s housing crisis. The roles will focus on addressing homelessness, as well as increasing low-income and affordable housing stock. As with other metros, the issue of vacant homes is often less about availability than affordability.

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#4. Key West, FL

- Total homes in metro area: 53,896
- Total unoccupied homes: 21,057 (39.1% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 2,807 (13.3% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 154 (0.7% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 824 (3.9% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 174 (0.8% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 13,436 (63.8% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,662 (17.4% of total)

A large percentage of unoccupied homes in Key West, Florida, are seasonal properties. Many properties that served as long-term rentals for seasonal workers are being converted to additional vacation rentals. Moreover, the little housing that is available for seasonal workers is often more costly than they can afford based on their hourly wages.

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#3. Barnstable Town, MA

- Total homes in metro area: 164,686
- Total unoccupied homes: 68,177 (41.4% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 1,670 (2.4% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 145 (0.2% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 1,817 (2.7% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 836 (1.2% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 60,547 (88.8% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 141 (0.2% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 3,021 (4.4% of total)

Cape Cod’s booming short-term rental market is causing major friction in the famous Massachusetts beach resort getaway, according to NBC10 Boston. The proliferation of investors buying homes just to rent them on sites like Airbnb is making many long-time residents feel like their community is a revolving door for short-term tourists. It also makes it appear that Barnstable Town, Massachusetts, is packed with empty houses when most are empty only long enough for cleaning crews to make way for the next rotation of Airbnbers.

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#2. Heber City, UT

- Total homes in metro area: 43,032
- Total unoccupied homes: 19,762 (45.9% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 3,807 (19.3% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 72 (0.4% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 258 (1.3% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 104 (0.5% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 15,132 (76.6% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 0 (0.0% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 389 (2.0% of total)


Heber City, Utah, has seen dramatic population growth over the course of the pandemic—the fifth-highest increase in the country in just one year. The convenience and affordability of remote work has people from nearby states, including California, moving to rural areas like Heber City. Like many other places on this list that have become a haven during the pandemic, affordable housing for longtime residents of the metro is growing increasingly more challenging to find because more than three-quarters of local homes are allocated for occasional use. Also, the median home price in the area jumped 39% to $835,000 year over year in the period ending in September 2021.

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#1. Ocean City, NJ

- Total homes in metro area: 99,630
- Total unoccupied homes: 58,691 (58.9% of total unoccupied homes)
--- Homes for rent: 6,195 (10.6% of total)
--- Homes rented but not occupied: 86 (0.1% of total)
--- Homes for sale: 881 (1.5% of total)
--- Homes sold, but not occupied: 121 (0.2% of total)
--- Homes for occasional, recreational, or seasonal use: 49,351 (84.1% of total)
--- Homes for migrant workers: 188 (0.3% of total)
--- Other vacant homes: 1,869 (3.2% of total)

Ocean City, New Jersey, epitomizes the kind of Jersey Shore town lawmakers had in mind when the state passed an 11.6% “Airbnb tax” on short-term rentals, which took effect in October 2019. Nearly two out of three homes in the family-friendly Cape May County summer hotspot—60,219—are listed as “unoccupied,” but 52,262 of them are seasonal or recreational homes. Countless others are short-term rentals that appear to be vacancies when they’re actually among the ever-growing tally of homes purchased by investors for renting during peak season on sites like Airbnb. Tourism is now a $6.6 billion industry in Cape May County.

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