After seeing some of the highest rates in recent memory, housing vacancy in the United States and most of the Ninth District has steadily fallen in recent years, according to data from the Census Bureau.
Separate measures are available for housing units that are “vacant for rent” and “vacant for sale.” For rental units nationwide, the vacancy rate for year-round units fell from a peak of 11.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 to 8.2 percent in the second quarter of 2013 (see Chart 1). Homeowner vacancies also fell.
Ninth District states are seeing a similar trend for rental vacancies (see Chart 2). But there are some methodological quirks. For example, smaller samples at the state level make these data noisier and less reliable. In some cases, the results are counterintuitive. North Dakota is in the midst of a housing crunch given its robust economy, yet rental vacancy rates are on the rise, according to Census data. But the Census defines a housing unit as vacant if it is occupied entirely by people who have a usual residence elsewhere. As a result, the state’s rising vacancy rate is likely the result of high numbers of out-of-state workers renting temporary housing near the oilfields.
An alternative way to analyze this trend is to look at the data on vacant addresses from the U.S. Postal Service, which has an agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to provide quarterly updates on the number of addresses it identifies as vacant. An address is deemed vacant if mail is not collected for more than 90 days. According to this much larger data set, there has been some decrease in the share of vacant residential addresses in most district states over the same period, though it is much less pronounced (see Chart 3; Montana and Wisconsin saw rates tick up slightly).
An interesting twist: For units vacant for less than one year, vacancy rates declined nationwide and among all district states during this period (see blue bars in Chart 3). In contrast, rates for properties vacant for more than one year increased across the board (see orange bars on Chart 3), and much of the rise came from units vacant for more than three years.