Sunday, October 9, 2011

Maricopa County tops list for home vacancies

New nationwide data shows just how profoundly the housing boom and bust left an impression on metro Phoenix.

Maricopa County has the highest overall number and percentage of vacant homes among the 10 most populous counties in the U.S., according to census data released Thursday.

Almost 14 percent of all homes are empty in Maricopa County. The data shows 227,696 single-family homes, condominiums and apartments were empty when last year's census was taken.

For comparison, Tucson has about 230,000 housing units. So Maricopa County's vacancies are the equivalent to an empty city the size of Tucson.

During the 10 years between the two census counts, Maricopa County's population grew 24 percent, while its housing stock grew 31 percent.

Census statistician Ellen Wilson said Maricopa County not only has the highest rate of empty homes among the largest counties but also experienced the biggest jump in its vacancy rate since the 2000 census.

Metro Phoenix, excluding Pinal County, has seen its housing vacancy rate climb 4.5 percentage points since 2000.

Miami-Dade in Florida, another county with overbuilding and foreclosure problems, has the second-highest vacancy rate among the 10 most-populous counties. Its vacancy rate is 12.3 percent. But only 122,083 homes are empty there.

Clark County, home to Las Vegas, actually had a higher vacancy rate of 14.9 percent. But it is not among the nation's 10 most-populous counties.

Most economists and housing-market watchers aren't surprised about Phoenix's ranking. Census data in March showed housing vacancies by county and community. Housing vacancy rates in some Valley cities, particularly newer edge suburbs, were nearly double Maricopa County's rate.

But this is the first national ranking among the largest counties released from the 2010 census.

"Metro Phoenix's housing vacancy rate can be a little shocking when you first see it, but it's not a permanent condition," said William Schooling, Arizona's state demographer. "Once the economy starts to percolate again, housing vacancies will drop in Arizona."

Housing analysts said far too many homes were built during the boom because of speculation and inflated population numbers. In 2009, estimates showed metro Phoenix had more than 100,000 houses built in 2004-06 still sitting empty.

As homebuilding has slowed, more of those homes have been filled by buyers and renters, but too many are still empty.

"The census confirms that in 2010 most new homes built in metro Phoenix during the boom were still vacant or only temporarily filled by renters because they were bought by investors," said Jim Rounds, an economist with Scottsdale-based Elliott D. Pollack & Co.

Overall for Arizona the rate of population growth to building is similar to metro Phoenix. Statewide, housing units increased 30 percent from 2000 to 2010. The state's population grew 25 percent during the same time.

by Catherine Reagor and Ronald J. Hansen The Arizona Republic Oct. 7, 2011 12:00 AM

Maricopa County tops list for home vacancies

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