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How Many Vacant Houses Are Really In The Bay Area?

This article was originally written and published by  and  of Bay Area News Group

There’s a home on South Jackson Avenue in San Jose’s Mayfair neighborhood that has it all: excellent location within walking distance of a school, parks and shops; a nearly acre-sized backyard; and — a rarity in California — a basement.

But for at least a decade it has sat unoccupied — one of an estimated 46,000 such homes in the five-county Bay Area. It’s a surprising number in a region beset by a crippling housing shortage and a ballooning number of homeless residents, where vacant housing has become the latest flashpoint in an ongoing crisis.

This estimated total comes from new data released by the U.S. Census Bureau in December. The bureau’s data is the best available, even though it includes some newly built homes that are not yet occupied. That makes it hard to know how many landlords are intentionally leaving houses vacant, although activists say even one empty home is too many.

“They’re allowing their homes to sit there empty in the midst of the biggest humanitarian crisis we’ve seen of this kind in the United States,” said Needa Bee, an Oakland-based advocate for homeless residents’ rights.

Bay, Fremont and Curvy Hiking Trail of Mission Peak, Silicon Valley, California

In Oakland, the number of vacant homes became one of the rallying cries for Moms 4 Housing, an activist group that took over an empty home in West Oakland in November. The group said there were four vacant homes for every homeless resident in the city. That would be about 16,000. The census data estimates far fewer — just under 6,000 — but still enough to house all of Oakland’s roughly 4,000 homeless residents.

Based on the new census data, San Francisco has the most vacant homes in the five-county Bay Area at 11,760. It’s followed by Oakland at 5,898 and San Jose with 3,985. After that, Berkeley has 1,738 vacant homes and Richmond has 1,560. The margin of error in most other cities is too high for the data, which is based on a five-year aggregate of numbers compiled from 2014-2018, to be reliable.

There are an additional 21,788 seasonal or occasional-use houses in the Bay Area — think weekend homes or beach cottages. Of those, 8,523 are in San Francisco, 1,337 are in San Jose and 1,060 are in Fremont. It’s not clear how the census data accounts for Airbnb properties and other similar, short-term rentals.

Despite the big numbers, relatively few of the 2.3 million homes in the five-county Bay Area are empty. Counties in the region have some of the lowest vacancy rates in the state, although adding 46,000 homes to the market could likely help many residents struggling to find a place to live…

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