Special Report

20 American Ghost Towns

Source: Wikimedia Commons

10. Inkster, Michigan
> Vacancy rate: 12.4%
> Vacant properties: 1,143
> 5 yr. population change: -8.4%
> Median home value: $51,700

An estimated 12.4% of homes in Inkster, part of the greater Detroit metropolitan area, lie vacant, more than seven times the national vacancy rate. As is frequently the case in areas where a large share of property is abandoned, the Inkster housing market is clearly struggling, and conditions appear to be getting worse. In the last five years alone, the area’s median home value fell from $96,700 to $51,700, each well below the corresponding U.S. values at the time.

An area’s housing market is usually closely tied to its economy, and Inkster, like much of the Detroit region, is in dire economic straits. Across the country, 15.6% of the population lives at or below the poverty line. In Inkster, a whopping 37.0% of the population does.

Detroit, Michigan abandoned building
Source: Thinkstock

9. Detroit, Michigan
> Vacancy rate: 14.3%
> Vacant properties: 37,771
> 5 yr. population change: -24.1%
> Median home value: $45,100

There are approximately 38,000 vacant properties in Detroit, by far the most of any U.S. city. This is more than double the combined vacant properties in Baltimore and St. Louis, which have the second and third most abandoned residences, respectively. Detroit’s long-term economic struggles, with the decline in regional auto manufacturing representing just one of the city’s problems, has led to a long-term population loss. Since peaking in the 1950s, the greater Detroit area’s population has dropped by half.

The housing market collapse of a few years ago appears to have further exacerbated Detroit’s population drain and weakened housing market. Over the past five years, Detroit’s population fell from about 916,000 to under 700,000. In 2009, the typical home in Detroit cost $85,400 compared to a national median home value of $185,400. By 2014, the median Detroit home price fell by nearly half to just $45,100, compared to a national median value of $175,700.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

8. River Rouge, Michigan
> Vacancy rate: 14.5%
> Vacant properties: 491
> 5 yr. population change: -10.6%
> Median home value: $36,800

Within commuting distance of Detroit, River Rouge is one of many Rust Belt cities with a dwindling population and a near-nation leading home vacancy rate. There are 491 vacant homes in River Rouge, Michigan, equal to nearly 15% of all homes in the area. In the last five years, the city has lost 10.6% of its population, and home values have plummeted by 43.6%.

Much like Flint, Michigan, roughly an hour to the north, River Rouge residents are currently living amidst an environmental and public health crisis. There are more than 50 major industrial operations in the city, including a coal-fired power plant that discharges more sulfur dioxide than is allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency. As a result, air quality in the area is poor, and residents are suffering. Michigan has the highest asthma incidence in the country, and in the Detroit metro area, which includes River Rouge, asthma is roughly 33% more common than it is statewide. The area’s health issues may have contributed to its persistent high regional home vacancy.

Brigantine beach in the winter in New Jersey
Source: Thinkstock

7. Brigantine, New Jersey
> Vacancy rate: 15.2%
> Vacant properties: 1,681
> 5 yr. population change: -25.8%
> Median home value: $369,700

While Brigantine was voted one of the best places to live in New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly in 2008, in recent years the town has suffered from economic decline and population loss. Brigantine is an island city off the New Jersey coast, and in 2012 it was hit particularly hard by Superstorm Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. Brigantine sustained substantial property damage, with the value of a typical home falling by roughly $80,000 since 2009. As a result of the decline in property value, 9% of all homes in Brigantine have underwater mortgages, meaning they owe more on their homes than the market value of their property. Nationwide, fewer than 1% of all homes have underwater mortgages.

6. Highland Park, Michigan
> Vacancy rate: 15.2%
> Vacant properties: 2,128
> 5 yr. population change: -25.1%
> Median home value: $39,100

Highland Park is one of many Michigan towns on this list which have been gutted by employment declines in the the Detroit region. Highland Park was hit especially hard. More than 15% of area homes have effectively been abandoned, and the area lost more than a quarter of its population in the last five years. Highland Park’s high vacancy rate is punctuated by rapidly declining property values. The typical area home is worth only $39,100, or about 44% less than its worth in 2009.

As is the case in many areas with high vacancy rates, municipal services are facing serious fiscal stress. The city’s school district faced a $7.8 million budget shortfall at the end of its 2016 fiscal year and was forced to close the local high school at the end of the 2015 academic year.