The national vacancy rate for "homeowner" housing units remained at 2.7% in Q409, unchanged from Q109, according to the US Department of Commerce. The rate only slightly wavered from 2.9% at the end of 2008 and 2.6% in Q309. The highest the rate has ever climbed since 1996 was to 2.9% in Q108 and again in Q408. For rental housing, the vacancy rate dropped to 10.7% in Q409 from 11.1% in the previous quarter but increased from 10.1% in the last quarter of 2008. For Q409, more vacancies appeared in principal cities, 3.1%, compared to 2.5% in the surrounding suburbs, according to the report. The rate within the city dropped from 3.5% in the fourth quarter of 2008. More vacancies appeared in the South, 2.9%, edging 2.8% in the Midwest and 2.7% in the West. The Northeast region had a 1.9% vacancy rate. The South also had the highest rental vacancy rate of 13.7% in Q409. The Midwest had a 11.2% rental vacancy rate, followed by the West, 8.9%, and the Northeast, at 7.2%. To combat vacancies, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced that it would provide financing for owner-occupants looking to purchase real-estate owned (REO) property. Cities like Detroit are taking on the vacancy problem with programs like the Retaining Occupancy on Foreclosure (ROOF) program that allow the previous owners of a foreclosed home to stay for up to three months for a fee. Write to Jon Prior.