The difference between the greed of the wealthy and the precariousness of American workers is painfully stark when looking at vacant homes.

2016 figures from ATTOM Data Solutions — which publishes comprehensive housing data — show that wealthy investors are buying up more and more real estate as a moneymaking venture while housing prices and homelessness continue to skyrocket across America.

According to ATTOM, 76 percent of all vacant homes in America are owned by investors — amounting to approximately 1.1 million vacant residential investment properties. Many of these vacant homes are in economically distressed Rust Belt cities with high poverty rates, like Detroit, Michigan, neighboring Flint, and Youngstown, Ohio. The states with the highest investment property vacancy rate also have high poverty rates. Michigan leads the pack with 10.3 percent vacancy, Indiana at 9.8 percent, Alabama at 6.9 percent, and Mississippi at 6.6 percent.

Meanwhile, in December of 2017, the Associated Press reported that homelessness increased in America for the first time since 2010 — the height of the Great Recession. 2017 data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed that local counts of homeless Americans reached approximately 554,000 nationwide, which is a 1 percent increase from 2016 (and roughly half of the number of vacant residential investment properties in America today). Approximately one-third of those counted as homeless had no access to nightly shelters and were sleeping on streets, and in vehicles and tents.

2017 was also a record-high year for rent prices, according to housing figures from Zillow. Tenants across America paid landlords an estimated $485.6 billion, with more than $100 billion of that coming from just the New York/New Jersey market, the Los Angeles/Long Beach/Anaheim market, and the Chicago market. Approximately 97,000 of America’s homeless persons are in New York City (63,169 homeless) and Los Angeles (34,000 homeless). Cities like San Jose, California and Denver, Colorado are seeing double-digit rent increases on average each year, according to Forbes.

vacant homes
The most drastic rent increases year to year in 24 major U.S. cities (Data by Zillow)

If current trends continue, affordable housing is expected to become even more scarce. CNBC reported in 2016 that 25 percent of ultra-wealthy Americans surveyed are planning on buying more real estate over the next several years. More scarcity in housing markets will drive up home prices, which will increase rent prices as a result. This could lead to future increases in the number of homeless Americans between now and 2020.


Carl Gibson is co-publisher of Grit Post. His work has previously appeared in The Guardian, Al Jazeera-America, NPR, The Washington Post, and others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or email him at carl AT gritpost DOT com.

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  1. Vancouver not long ago instated an empty home tax, which taxes owners of unoccupied homes largely in response to the homeless crisis that they were facing.

    Suffice it to say, quite a few of them started rushing to either sell, rent, or try to get rid of the properties that they did not occup suffice it to say, quite a few of them started rushing to either sell or rent unoccupied properties they owned.

    Something like that should seriously be considered here in the United States.

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