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More Houses Sit Empty as Vacancy Rates Surge

The share of U.S. homes owned but empty edged up in the first quarter to a record high 2.9 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau said Monday in a report adding more evidence of a deepening housing slump.

AP

It was the third consecutive quarter in which the homeowner vacancy rate rose, reflecting the difficulty owners are having selling homes amid what has been characterized by analysts as the worst housing recession since the Great Depression. The rate stood at 2.8 percent in the final quarter of last year as well as in the first quarter of that year.

At the same time, the U.S. homeownership rate moved up to a seasonally adjusted 67.9 percent from a near seven-year-low of 67.7 percent in the fourth quarter and 68.5 percent in the first quarter of 2007, it said.

Regional homeowner vacancy rates for the first three months of this year were the lowest in the Northeast, hitting 2 percent compared to 1.9 percent the same time a year earlier.

The rates were unchanged from the same time a year ago in both the Midwest and the South, at 2.9 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively.

But they shot up to 3.2 percent in West, an area hardest hit by the crisis in risky subprime mortgages, from 2.6 percent a year earlier.

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