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Census shows home vacancies soaring in 2010

Arizona added more than 655,000 new housing units between 2000 and 2010, but U.S. Census Bureau figures made public on Thursday show a lot of them remain vacant.

The state had 2.84 million single-family homes and apartments in 2010, up from 2.19 million just 10 years before.

But the number of vacant housing units not used as part-time or vacation homes soared to nearly one in 10 as builders added too many houses, the recession caused fewer people to move to Arizona in recent years and peopled doubled-up rather than create their own households.

Excluding part-time or vacation homes, the number of vacant housing units stood at 9.8 percent, with 279,209 empty units last year, up from 145,897 a decade earlier.

The numbers aren’t a surprise, said Scottsdale-based economist Elliott Pollack. The statewide vacancy rate has increased by about 3 percent in recent years, housing prices collapsed, apartment vacancy rates have soared and household formation has dropped.

“All this does for me is confirm what everybody seems to know: There are far too many vacant units, especially single-family units,” Pollack said. “It’s a combination of overbuilding and people not showing up and increases in household size, as people tend to double up during a recession.

“And the only solution is to wait it out, hope population grows again and hope the economy gets strong enough so that the average household size diminishes,” he said.

The building boom that gained steam in the mid-2000s added 42,000 vacation and second homes, according to the census bureau, bringing the total number of units used as part-time homes to 184,327.

But much of the building was driven by factors that skewed population and growth projections, said Jay Butler, a real estate studies professor at Arizona State University.

“You have situations where people were buying the homes and renting them out and expecting to be able to flip ’em to this massive number of people who were moving in, and that didn’t happen, so basically they just remained empty,” Butler said. “There was this sort of perpetual growth syndrome that was going on.”

The new census numbers highlight the huge changes in Arizona’s economy during the decade.

“We’re really looking at two very different economies,” Butler said.

“In the 2000 Census, things were bumping along pretty good — we had high building income, we were just moving into the hyper market, housing was getting extremely affordable, we had the dot-coms, and we had high levels of income,” he said. “This particular census is in the throes of horribleness. You could probably not get two more distinct end points than those two.”

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