Assuming four people per household, the U.S. currently has enough surplus housing to provide shelter for the entire populations of the United Kingdom and Israel combined.
More than 18.7 million U.S. homes — or slightly more than 14 percent — stood empty during the second quarter according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bloomberg reports.
The number includes foreclosures, homes for sale, and vacation homes.
The vacancy rate was the lowest in the U.S. northeast region, at 2 percent, and the highest in the south, at 2.7 percent, according to the report.
Home values dropped 33 percent since 2006, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index, and the rate of unemployment is the highest in 26 years, thwarting government efforts to reverse the housing decline at the heart of the longest U.S. recession since the 1930s.
“Job insecurity, together with declines in home values and tight credit, is likely to limit gains in consumer spending,” Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently told the House of Representative’s Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
Housing industry experts point out that companies have shed about 6.5 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, cutting demand for homes. One in every eight U.S. households with a mortgage is now late on their payments or already in foreclosure.
Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors reports that distressed properties account now for 31 percent of all sales — 1.5 million of the 4.89 million homes sold in June — cutting deeply into new home sales and prices.
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