Detroit residential vacancies stabilize in late 2012

How are the neighborhoods doing?

The Center for Urban Studies (Center) has created a database and mapping tool that describes address vacancy using information from the United States Postal Service (USPS).  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently entered into an agreement with the USPS to aggregate and publicly release USPS data on vacant addresses on a quarterly basis.  The data covers all addresses in the United States and provides comprehensive coverage of vacancies at various geographic levels, including states, counties and census tracts. This inclusion of vacancy data at the census tract level is one of the biggest advantages of the new USPS data set.

Using the 27 HUD /USPS extracts since December 2005, the Center has created a time-series database consisting of over 1.5 million records that describe the address vacancy conditions in every census tract in the United States.  This provides a powerful tool for tracking neighborhood change over time.

There are a number of basic measures for this data set including:

•Total number of residential addresses
•Total number of residential, business and other addresses that are vacant
•Total number of addresses that are “no-stat” (i.e., temporary vacancies)

Vacant , as defined by the USPS, means the occupants of the unit have not collected their mail for 90 days or longer.

The “no-stat” category is separate from vacant, which includes: a) addresses under construction but not yet occupied; b) rural addresses  vacant for 90 days or longer; c) urban addresses identified by a carrier as not likely to be active for some time (e.g., if a building is being  demolished to be replaced by another building, the address is preserved and considered “no-stat”).

The following  figures and maps are based on the USPS/HUD data.



The availability of quarterly vacancy data begins in December 2005.  In March 2008, the USPS began to differentiate residential addresses from businesses and other types of addresses. According to the data, the total percent of vacancies and the percent of residential vacancies remained the same in the third and fourth quarters of 2012. However, this is not a direct reflection on the vacancy rate in the city; this is further explained below.


The overall address vacancy rate in the City of Detroit rose .08 percent from Sep 2012 to Dec 2012.  During the fourth quarter of 2012,  51 addresses became vacant and 1,307 addresses were removed from the USPS master address list.

The overall address vacancy rate was 22.2 percent in December 2012.

In recent years, the USPS has made changes to its counting procedures to improve the accuracy of the vacant indicator.  These new methods should improve data quality over time, but caution should be used in measuring change over time.  For more information, see the following


The map above illustrates the geography of address vacancy rates for December 2012.

Neighborhoods shaded purple have vacancy rates exceeding 25 percent.  Areas with the lowest address vacancy include: Midtown, Palmer Park and Woods, Grandmont-Rosedale, Rosedale Park, Pembroke, Sherwood Forest, and Rouge Park, among others.

The map above illustrates spatial patterns in address vacancy rates for March 2012.  The are clusters of neighborhoods (shaded purple) having vacancy rates exceeding 30 percent, including the Brightmoor area on Detroit’s west side, the State Fair-Nolan area, the Tireman area, and numerous neighborhoods on Detroit’s east side, a few with vacancy rates exceeding 50 percent.

This map and the previous map do not directly correspond since the purple in this map reflects vacancy rates exceeding 30 percent versus 25 percent. However,  by further looking at the data, there is evidence the vacancy rate in Detroit is slightly higher than it was in March 2012.

Red indicates an increase in address vacancy from Dec 2011 to Dec 2012.  Green areas are those with declining address vacancy rates (improvements) for this same period.  Gray shaded areas showed little change during the period Dec. 2011 to Dec. 2012 (i.e., +/- 1 percent).  The majority of neighborhoods on Detroit’s Eastside showed increases in address vacancy.  Several Detroit neighborhoods near the city’s Westside border showed declines in address vacancy, as did the Boston-Edison, New Center and Medical Center neighborhoods.  Highland Park neighborhoods showed declines in address vacancy, but primarily as a result of a decline in the number of addresses (likely from demolitions of abandoned buildings). In Southwest Detroit, changes in address vacancy were mixed – areas along Michigan Avenue showed declines while areas south of W. Vernor showed increases in vacancy from Dec 2011 to Dec 2012.

Red areas indicate increases in address vacancy from March 2011 to March 2012.  Green areas showed declining vacancy rates (improvements) for this same period.  Gray shaded areas showed very little change in the past year (i.e., +/- 1 percent).  Several neighborhood pockets on Detroit’s west side showed signs of improvement.  Other notable improvements included a big decline in address vacancy in Midtown and some modest improvements in areas along East Jefferson Avenue, on Detroit lower east side.

When comparing this map with the one above, it shows that there was a higher increase in address vacancy from December 2011 to December 2012  than from March 2011 to 2012. This  higher increase can particularly be seen on the east side of Detroit and in western parts of the city.

The most recent information in the maps above, which show that over the last year there have been large pockets of neighborhoods with an increasing number of vacant properties, corresponds with a recent article released by the Detroit Free Press. On March 3 the Free Press released a database that shows how the assessed values of residential properties has changed over the last year. While an average of two out of three communities in the Metro-Detroit area have seen an increase in property values in the last year, Detroit saw a decrease of 11.3 percent, according to the database.




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