Half a million houses, many of them vacant and deteriorating, are languishing in a bloated U.S. real estate market, threatening to turn some cities into ghost towns, undermining the stability of working families, and proving to be an anchor on a shaky economy. Many of these vacant homes, nearly a quarter-million, are controlled by the federal government.
If the situation wasn’t already bleak enough, there are also more than a million additional American homes saddled with delinquent mortgages that are in the process of foreclosure. Chances are many of these homes will also end up as the property of the federal government. The only way to lower the inventory of decaying homes is to find a use for the ones we have before new ones swell the pool. Without assistance, the current “overhang” of foreclosed homes is expected to take four years to work back into the market.
The good news is the Obama administration and independent federal regulators are formulating plans to sell government-controlled foreclosed properties to investors who would bring them onto the rental market. The aim is to reduce the number of vacant homes which depress housing prices and burden the economy while meeting an increasing demand for rental homes. If made affordable these new rentals can help meet the needs of approximately 20 million American households—about half of all renters—who are “rent impoverished” today, meaning they devote more than a third of their monthly income just to housing. This is a key indicator of pent-up demand for new rental housing.
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