04 August 2011


This story first appeared in USA TODAY.
Empty housing has been on the rise since the recession and real estate bust, but occupancy is starting to pick up in some places — largely because of soaring rental demand.
Neighborhoods from Tacoma, Wash., to New York's Bronx borough and parts of Albuquerque are showing an uptick in occupied housing.
There are quite a lot of variations in how metropolitan areas, for example Raleigh Homes are weathering the current economic conditions. Justin Hollander, an urban planning professor, led the research.
Hollander studied data on mail delivery to residences in nearly 30,000 ZIP codes in the contiguous 48 states during the housing boom and collapse. When a unit is vacant, the Postal Service scratches the address off its delivery list.
Occupied housing has declined in about a third of ZIP codes since 2009. From 2000 to 2006, before the recession hit, there were 26% fewer postal areas that experienced an increase in vacant homes.
Widespread decline
Percentage of ZIP codes that registered a net decline in housing occupancy from February 2009 through February 2011:
Suburban areas, where most new residential development was concentrated during the real estate boom, were hit hard: The number of ZIP codes in the suburbs that suffered drops in occupancy grew the most in the latter half of the decade.
Across the southern United States, from Atlanta to Fort Myers (Fla.) to Phoenix, massive new housing developments are largely unoccupied, while older housing is abandoned due to foreclosure.
But the nobody-home phenomenon haunting more and more neighborhoods across the USA is reversing in some cities:
•Tacoma, Wash. The merger of Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base last year has created one of the largest military facilities in the world.
The community now numbers almost 34,000 active-duty military personnel and 5,100 reservists, 49,500 family members, more than 29,000 military retirees and 15,000-plus civil service personnel and contractors all of whom need housing.
A real estate consultant in Tacoma and the suburb of Lakewood said their rental market is very strong compared to Cary homes. So strong that rental occupancy is at 98%, she says.
A condominium project in downtown Tacoma has been converted into a 50-unit rental and is filled, mostly with military.
In the last several months, 30,000 military contractors and others have needed temporary off-base housing.
The city has not been immune to housing market woes, however. Prices have fallen 30%.
•The Bronx. Astronomical housing prices in Manhattan have pushed residents — many of them Dominican immigrants — into the adjacent borough.
Many are priced out as Manhattan continues to gentrify. In South Bronx and West Bronx, there's a pent-up demand for rentals.
In 2002, as the housing market soared, the demand for home ownership was so high that older single-family homes on big lots on the east and north sides were torn down and three or four new ones built in their place. Housing units multiplied so much that there was a limit development through zoning changes.
Many of these row houses that went up came without parking or adequate parking. Some units had nine cars per household.
Hollander's analysis shows some Bronx ZIP codes have added more than 1,000 occupied units since 2006.
•New Orleans. Hurrican Katrina devastated the city in 2005 and housing occupancy plummeted in almost every ZIP code from 2006 to 2009. In 70117, home of the decimated Lower Ninth Ward, the number of occupied homes dropped by more than 9,500 during that time.
There are signs of recovery: 1,799 more occupied units in that ZIP from 2009 to 2011. In 70122, where the Gentilly Terrace and St. Bernard Area neighborhoods are, there were almost 3,500 more occupied housing units in 2011 than in 2009.
•Albuquerque. Janice McCrary, executive vice president of the Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors, does not mince words saying new-home building is probably dead in Albuquerque.
Yet one ZIP code (87114) on the city's far west side has added more than 3,800 occupied units since 2006. Others, in older, more established neighborhoods, have added more than 700. Apex homes are also seeing an increase of owners.

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