Special Report

30 American Ghost Towns

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20. ZIP 21223 (Baltimore, Maryland)
> Vacant homes: 2,156 (17.4%)
> 5 yr. population change: -2.7%
> Population: 25,127
> Median home value: $69,500

There were an estimated 16,800 vacant homes in Baltimore in the wake of the financial crisis in 2010. In the years since, the city has invested millions to demolish abandoned blocks — but still, an estimated 16,300 homes remain unoccupied. Much of the progress from the demolition has been offset as people have been leaving the city in recent years, reducing demand for housing. As recently as 2014, Baltimore was home to nearly 623,000 people. Now, there are fewer than 612,000.

Located just west of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the 21223 ZIP code has a far larger than typical share of vacant homes — even for Baltimore. There are 2,156 unoccupied homes in the ZIP code, 17.4% of the area’s 12,363 total homes.

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19. ZIP 29572 (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina)
> Vacant homes: 2,441 (17.6%)
> 5 yr. population change: 0.2%
> Population: 8,923
> Median home value: $264,000

Likely due in large part to its popularity as a tourist destination, 17.6% of homes in Myrtle Beach’s 29572 ZIP code are unoccupied. This specific part of the city is sandwiched between the Barefoot Resort and Grand Dunes golf courses on one side, and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Very few unoccupied homes in the Myrtle Beach’s 29572 ZIP code are abandoned, as 96% of vacant homes in the area are investment properties.

Like other popular vacation destinations on this list, parts of Myrtle Beach, like the 29572 ZIP code likely only have near nation-leading vacancy rates during the off season.

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18. ZIP 28480 (Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina)
> Vacant homes: 465 (18.0%)
> 5 yr. population change: 1.1%
> Population: 2,546
> Median home value: $742,100

Many ZIP codes with high vacancy rates are characterized by financial hardship and depressed real estate values. The 28480 ZIP code, which covers the North Carolina town of Wrightsville Beach and some of the surrounding area along the Atlantic Coast, is not one of them. The typical area home is worth nearly three-quarters of a million dollars — more than four times the national median home value — and the typical area household income is $77,232 a year.

The town’s beachfront makes it a popular tourist destination, and visitors have plenty of rental homes and condos to choose from. Vacancy rates likely fluctuate considerably in Wrightsville Beach throughout the year, peaking in the off season.

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17. ZIP 64128 (Kansas City, Missouri)
> Vacant homes: 888 (18.3%)
> 5 yr. population change: -0.9%
> Population: 12,027
> Median home value: $41,900

Of the 4,856 single family homes and condos in this section of Kansas City, 888 are unoccupied — up from 877 last year. The 64128 ZIP code covers the Knoches Park, Oak Park Northwest, Palestine East, and Sante Fe neighborhoods, as well as Ingleside — one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. Abandoned and vacant properties can be both a product of and breeding ground for crime.

Like many inner-city areas with high vacancy rates, the 64128 ZIP code in Kansas City has depressed property values and low incomes. More than one in three area residents live below the poverty line, and over half of all area homes are worth less than $42,000.

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16. ZIP 45214 (Cincinnati, Ohio)
> Vacant homes: 213 (18.3%)
> 5 yr. population change: -6.8%
> Population: 8,557
> Median home value: $57,600

The 45214 ZIP code extends from just west of Cincinnati’s Washington Park up through the West End neighborhood, over Mill Creek and into the Fairmount neighborhood. The area is one of the poorest in the country. Over half of all residents live in poverty, and the typical home is worth just $57,600 — less than a third of the national median home value. The widespread financial distress may be driving people out. In the last five years, the area’s population declined by 6.8%, and 18.4% of area homes are unoccupied.

Currently, an initiative is underway to convert abandoned and deteriorating homes in the greater Cincinnati area into affordable housing for the city’s lowest income residents. The Urban Land Institute of Cincinnati and Local Initiatives Support Corporation of Greater Cincinnati are leading the effort.