Vacant Homes in Northern New England

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Canada Geese in flight

photo credit: Alan Vernon.

Recently, we came across a piece of data that was shocking . . . the number of vacant homes in Northern New England (from the U.S. Census Bureau via USA Today).

  • Maine had the highest percentage of vacant homes in the country at 22.8 percent.
  • Vermont had the second highest percentage of vacant homes in the country at 20.5 percent.
  • New Hampshire had the eighth highest percentage of vacant homes in the country at 15.6 percent.
However, vacant homes do not mean they are dilapidated on the verge of falling down. Instead, it simply means that the homes were vacant when the Census Bureau was out trying to count everyone for the 2010 decennial census.  From their website:
A housing unit is vacant if no one is living in it at the time of the interview, unless its occupants are only temporarily absent. In addition, a vacant unit may be one which is entirely occupied by persons who have a usual residence elsewhere. New units not yet occupied are classified as vacant housing units if construction has reached a point where all exterior windows and doors are installed and final usable floors are in place. Vacant units are excluded if they are exposed to the elements, that is, if the roof, walls, windows, or doors no longer protect the interior from the elements, or if there is positive evidence (such as a sign on the house or block) that the unit is to be demolished or is condemned. Also excluded are quarters being used entirely for nonresidential purposes, such as a store or an office, or quarters used for the storage of business supplies or inventory, machinery, or agricultural products. Vacant sleeping rooms in lodging houses, transient accommodations, barracks, and other quarters not defined as housing units are not included in the statistics in this report. [emphasis added]

So, we discover the true meaning of all these vacant houses–snow-birds.  We all know a significant number of older folks in Northern New England flee to Florida in the winter.  This new Census data just brings to light how many people we are really talking about–nearly one in every four homes in Maine!

This begs the obvious question:  How can we build a vibrant, sustainable, full-time economy with towns full of part-time residents?  And given the ongoing aging of the population in Northern New England, the army of snow-birds is likely to keep growing.  Towns across the region should be proactive in understanding the demographic profile of their residents if we are to prevent this multitude of vacant homes from eventually becoming derelict homes.
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