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How the Great Recession created ghost towns

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In Detroit, bulldozers crumple vacant homes left behind during foreclosure by the thousands. Las Vegas developments sit abandoned, and the rapid growth of Stockton, Calif., has screeched to a halt in the wake of the Great Recession. As some markets such as San Diego and Washington, D.C., lead the recovery out of the housing crisis, others are becoming ghost towns. A study from James Follain of the Research Institute for Housing America showed in some markets such as Cleveland and Stockton, a recovery could be many years out as populations are moving out faster than the homes they vacate can either be resold or even destroyed. "Such decreases in population and employment trigger declines in the demand for housing, and because people are more mobile than houses, it takes many years for supply and demand to become balanced again and for house prices to return to prior levels," Follain wrote. A red flag for declining cities is the amount of traditional home sales moving on the market compared to ones lost to foreclosure, or REO. In Cleveland, the decade began with regular home sales accounting for about 94% of the market, but over the next several years, that number dropped to about 60% as the few buyers that remained bought more REO. In Stockton, the drop was starker. Regular sales dominated through 2006 but declined by half in 2007 and made up only of 11% of the market in 2008. Since then, the recovery has sputtered along. Regular sales have only taken back one-third of the market since. Submarkets, too, are transforming with some experiencing such deep declines that their future survival is in question or at the least will be in recovery mode for some time, Follain said. The Department of Housing and Urban Development has acted, releasing roughly $7 billion in Neighborhood Stabilization Program grants that go to municipalities, state governments and nonprofits looking to buy up and clear out vacant homes. But Follain concludes that the future remains uncertain for everyone. "The fundamental problem facing today’s new breed of declining cities and their neighborhoods seems very similar to a problem in many parts of government seeking to manage our economic recovery," Follain concluded. "That is, investment and lending are seriously hampered by great uncertainty, which in itself hinders the speed of recovery to the 'new normal.'" Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter: @JonAPrior

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