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Update on National Vacancy Rates

Residential vacancy rates were at 1.3% in Q2 2019, 0.2 percentage points lower year-over-year, according to the latest report from the U.S. Census Bureau [1]. Q2’s rate was not statistically different from Q1 2019’s rate of 1.4%, the Bureau notes. Additionally, homeownership rates remained at a relatively unchanged rate of 64.1%.

Meanwhile, rental vacancy rates were 6.8% in Q2 2019. The Bureau notes that this rate is virtually unchanged year-over-year, and not statistically different from Q1 2019’s rate. 

Approximately 87.8% of the housing units in the United States in the Q2 2019 were occupied and 12.2% were vacant.  Vacant units that were held off market comprised 5.5% of the total housing stock, and 1.6% were for occasional use, 1.0% were temporarily occupied by persons with usual residence elsewhere and 3.0% were vacant for a variety of other reasons.

Some cities are combating these vacant, temporarily occupied homes through “empty homes penalties [2].” Voters in Oakland, California recently approved Measure W, a tax of as much as $6,000 per parcel and $3,000 per condo unit on properties occupied fewer than 50 days per year. The tax is expected to bring in around $10 million per year, which is intended to go toward homeless services and new affordable housing, Capital and Main [3] reports. 

Additionally, San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin wants to put a vacancy tax on the March 2020 election ballot, with a focus on empty storefront. Meanwhile, vacancy tax pushes in Los Angeles focus more on residential properties. 

Proponents of these vacancy taxes say that they will improve access to affordable housing by keeping speculators from sitting on them until they can rent them for a higher rate, or sell them at a greater profit when prices inevitably increase. Opponents say that the key to affordable housing isn’t taxes, but the revising of zoning to build more housing.