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Economy

Can Pete Buttigieg Fix America's Vacancy Problem?

The Democratic presidential candidate’s plan to promote homeownership simultaneously addresses hypervacancy and the racial wealth gap.
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, speaks at the NAACP Convention.
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, speaks at the NAACP Convention.Carlos Osorio/AP

Blight is a problem that doesn’t recognize borders. Vacant properties plague almost every place in America, and every kind of place, too, from empty urban rowhouses on the East Coast to abandoned rural farmhouses in the Midwest to disused suburban strip malls in the Inland Empire. Rural areas and small towns arguably have it worse, with a higher vacancy rate than metropolitan areas on average. Meanwhile, some cities, especially Rust Belt legacy cities, suffer from a destructive form of concentrated vacancy known as hypervacancy.

Still, no one can say exactly how widespread the problem really is. There’s no nationwide toll of vacant properties, according to recent research; instead, the national map of blight is piecemeal. A 2015 survey conducted by Gary, Indiana, found that 25,000 of its parcels are vacant (40 percent of the city’s total). Detroit estimates that it has more than 120,000 vacant lots.