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And it’s been right in front of our faces all along

 In cities across the United States, there exists a peculiar situation: the number of vacant housing units greatly exceeds the number of homeless people. Earlier this fall, the San Francisco Chronicle, using U.S. Census Bureau data, released an article listing America’s most vacant cities. The article presents prime examples of this country’s particular, illogical situation where rental units and homes lie abandoned, unused, and deteriorating while homeless and low-income people sleep in shelters, cars, doubled-up with others, or on the streets.

Homelessness can be solved today. There are nearly 13 million vacant housing units throughout our cities and rural areas; a supply of available housing far exceeding the estimated 3 million people who will experience homelessness in the country. From city to city, using only existing infrastructure, we have the means necessary to give everyone a home.


12-month averages

Rental vacancy: 18.8%

Homeowner vacancy rate: 2.2%

Home to Disneyworld and nicknamed “The City Beautiful”, Orlando has become one of America’s most popular cities. In 2009, according to Forbes, this Sun Belt city became the most visited tourist spot US. Beneath the sun-bleached roofs and beyond the palm-tree-lined streets and tranquil lakes, however, Orlando has the highest numbers of vacant houses and apartments.

The Displaced, an educational campaign designed to “raise awareness about Central Florida’s displaced community,” states that the “average number of displaced people on any given night in Central Florida is 3,970.” In 2010, they estimated that more than 9,887 people experienced homelessness; an increase of about 17% from 2008, when the recession began. More than 10,000 school-age children in Orlando and the surrounding counties will be homeless at some point during the year, according the Orlando Sentinel. This represents an increase of 79% since 2009. These children comprise over 20% of Florida’s 49,885 homeless school-aged children.

The city of Orlando alone is estimated by The Business Journals to have 194,819 vacant housing units—nearly ten times the number of people who will go homeless in Central Florida.

Dayton Ohio

Rental vacancy: 11.3%

Homeowner vacancy: 5.4%

Dayton, known for its aviation history and more recently for its economic development, is the sixth largest city in the state of Ohio and suffers from the highest average homeowner vacancy rate in the U.S. In 2010, when the Census was taken, Dayton had more than 20% of its housing units vacant. A total of 15,661 houses, condo, and apartments were abandoned and unused, according to the Dayton Daily News.

In Montgomery County, where Dayton is located, the Homeless Management Information System recorded 857 homeless individuals—a tiny percentage of the open, vacant housing units.


Rental vacancy: 16.9%

Homeowner vacancy: 1.7%

In 2008, according to the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, Detroit had the highest number of homeless people and persons in families, 11,913 and 6,149 respectively. The situation for low-income families in Detroit is especially daunting, with families comprising 36.4% of the homeless population, In fact, over one-third of the city’s residents currently live below the poverty level and have an unemployment rate of 12.6%.

From 2005 to 2010, Detroit has struggled through at least 55,000 foreclosures, and the New York Times reported that 20% to 30% of the city’s lots were vacant. Using Census data, Data Driven Detroit states that the city’s average vacancy rate is 22.5%, or over 75,000 units.

Las Vegas

Rental vacancy: 11.9%

Homeowner vacancy: 3.9%

Casino gaming is a multi-billion transnational industry with some of its strongest roots planted in Las Vegas. The façade of bright lights and the chance to win jackpots is easily pushed aside when we are presented with the bleak fact that Las Vegas is ranked fourth in the nation for homelessness per capita, with 50 homeless people per 10,000, according to a 2011 study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness and its Homeless Research Institute in Washington D.C. (The nation averages 21 homeless individuals per 10,000 people.) Social services are incredibly sparse, evident with 40% of the homeless population sleeping outside and unsheltered.

In total, 9,432 homeless people reside in the City of Las Vegas—an estimated 1,430 of whom are U.S. Veterans. Las Vegas, however, currently has 32,012 vacant housing units.


Rental vacancy: 15.5%

Homeowner vacancy: 1.9%

Houston, the largest city in the state of Texas with over 2 million people, is home to more Fortune 500 company headquarters than any other city except New York. Although, when we look at the distressing homeless rates of the city, we can see that Houston is a microcosm of the housing crisis affecting this country, with nearly 16% of all rental units lying vacant and unused.

Even with a 2010 gross domestic product of $385 billion, the city of Houston and the surrounding counties leave approximately 1 in every 636 residents without a stable home. The Houston Coalition for the Homeless, through a point-in-time homeless enumeration, estimates that there are at least 7,356 homeless people in Harris and Fort Bend Counties. Of the 3,824 people left unsheltered, 22% were U.S. Veterans. Regrettably, over 260 people, nearly one-quarter of the individuals that night, were under the age of 19.

The Houston school districts records an appalling “estimated total of 12,512 homeless youth” identified in the 2011-2012 school year. The 8,647 students doubled-up in homes with other families represent the largest portion of these children, followed by the 2,706 school children living in shelters. 608 of Houston’s school children were without any shelter.

The 2010 Census indicated that there are over 90,000 vacant housing units in Houston, Texas.



Author: Street Sheet Editor

The STREET SHEET is the oldest continuously published street news paper in the United States. Organizationally, it is the public education and outreach tool of the Coalition on Homelessness. Every month, the STREET SHEET reaches 32,000 readers through over 200 homeless or low-income vendors. Our vendors are charged nothing for the papers they receive, and keep all money they earn through STREET SHEET distribution.


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