Empty Houses

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly National M...Image via WikipediaI am picturing empty houses all over America. I am dreaming neighborhoods full of empty houses. Some are small, boxy Cape Cods or Jazz Age bungalows. Some are McMansions or modern concrete, steel and glass abstract expressions. Some have beautiful wood staircases, maybe marble floors or countertops, granite kitchen surfaces with giant islands and warming ovens. The once-gleaming stainless steel appliances may have been removed by the distraught homeowners who will no longer call these spaces home. There are acres of swimming pools, oodles of shrubs and trees, miles of pergolas and porches all across America, all empty.

It is a sad and desolate and wasteful picture. These homes may never house new families. There are too many of them. They will fall to wrack and ruin. Where are the people who once owned and treasured them? Surely they miss their homes. Where do they live now? Are they renting, have they downsized, are they homeless?

You would think you could just hold a giant lottery and match homes to people, but of course it can’t be done. Banks own these homes now. They must be exchanged for money. You can’t bank houses, you can only bank money. People would have to pay the bank for the house. They would have to keep paying every month. They would have to maintain the house, fix things when they wore out. We can’t find enough people who can or will pay for and maintain these homes. As of February 1, 2011 there were 18.4 million vacant homes in America. These houses haunt me. They speak to me of failure and decay, of loss and grief, of hopelessness and despair.

In NYS 18% of homes are empty. In Florida, which has more vacant homes than any state, 20% of homes are empty (that’s one in five). 167,000 houses sit empty in Nevada. It may represent nothing more than our gullibility, our willingness to be scammed, or even to take a chance and enter into a relationship we know might be a scam. Maybe America isn’t failing, Americans just got a little greedy and stupid. Although I have heard people say this, and it may have some truth, we all know that unemployment has contributed many empty houses to the inventory and we also know people have lost homes which have declined in value because of conditions in the marketplace and through no fault of their own. This has been a far-reaching housing crash affecting both the innocent and the not so innocent.

Still it is difficult to get those empty houses off my mind. They make me think of a disaster movie where the people die, but their houses remain intact, like the Anasazi tribes with the cliff houses who just abandoned their homes for no reason we can discern from this historical distance. It is spooky and redundant. When we fill those empty houses (at least the ones that survive time and neglect) will America be whole again?

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