American Ghost Towns Of The 21st Century

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6. Dare County North Carolina

Number of homes: 33,492
Vacancy Rate: 57%
Population: 32,584

Dare County includes the northern-most parts of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The situation in the vacation area is so severe that the “Outer Banks Voice” recently wrote, “If Dare County Manager Bobby Outten was intending to sound an alarm by suggesting that the EMS helicopter and school nurses were expendable in the next budget, he probably succeeded.” His comments are unlikely to be terribly different from those of other executives of counties on the list. Vacant homes and homes which lose double-digit amounts of their value each year irreparably undermine the tax base. And, as services fall, fewer potential homeowners will consider investing in the area.

7. Dukes County, Massachusetts

Number of homes: 17,188
Vacancy Rate: 57%
Population: 15,527

Dukes County encompasses the island of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The enemy of the local budget is, as is true for most of the counties on this list, falling property values. Vacationers still flock to the resort island in the summer as do seasonal workers. The county is close to deserted when the weather turns cold.

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8. Sawyer County, Wisconsin

Number of homes: 15,975
Vacancy Rate: 56%
Population: 17,117

The Sawyer County website has a link, prominently placed on the homepage, which goes to a list of foreclosed homes for sales by the sheriff’s department. There are not many new homebuyers. The number of people who live in the county was flat from 2000 to 2010. The Hayward Community School District, located in Sawyer, will probably close one of its elementary schools. Sawyer is a fishing and biking destination, and has suffered from a drop in travelers from the southern part of the state.

9. Burnett County, Wisconsin

Number of homes: 15,278
Vacancy Rate: 55%
Population: 16,196

Burnett County is at the western most part of Wisconsin near Minneapolis. The county’s population fell from 2000 to 2010. County Administrator Candace Fitzgerald recently said that proposed budget cuts “could prove to be devastating and very hard to recover from.” The county’s attractiveness as a tourist destination has faltered. Home values have fallen for three consecutive years. Cuts in the Wisconsin State budget will lower state aid. People are more likely to default and abandon vacation homes than their primary residences. This has probably been an important reason vacancy rates in rural tourist areas in Wisconsin are so high.

10. Aitkin County, Minnesota

Number of homes: 16,029
Vacancy rate: 54%
Population: 15,736

Aitkin County offers visitors two seasons for recreation. The first is in the summer when fishing is popular. The second is winter when snowmobilers come north. Aitkin is the last of the counties on the 24/7 Wall St. list demonstrating that rural regions which rely on tourists are especially exposed to economic hardship in a recession.  They may take longer to recover than some industrialized cities do.

Douglas A. McIntyre