Empty Homes Yet Unhoused People – Another Sickness of the System

Image credit: Paxson Woelber via Wikimedia Commons

A recent report provides us with yet another example of the inhumanity of the capitalist political-economic system that shapes our world.

San Francisco recently released data for 2021 that found that 61,473 homes sat empty and unused while at least 4,000 people sleep on the city’s streets every night. That means that for every unhoused person, living miserably without shelter or basic sanitation, there are 14 vacant homes. Approximately 10,000 are vacation homes that sit unused most of the year, only to be used a few weeks at a time. More than 50,000, however, are mostly rental units whose landlords can’t get the rent they want for the units, and therefore wait for a better time to rent or for a tenant who will pay them the rent they want.

And it isn’t just San Francisco. A New York Times article reports that statistics for 2020 show that nationwide, approximately 9.7% of all homes are vacant at any given time. In New York, there are about 3 empty units for every unhoused person. In Baltimore, according to the Baltimore Point in Time report for 2022, there are about 10 empty units for every unhoused person.

San Francisco is presently considering enacting an “Empty Homes Tax” that would charge landlords and absentee owners for not living in their homes or renting them, with the proceeds to go to so-called affordable housing (which in New York or San Francisco is still obscenely priced). 

But there is a much easier solution. If homes in the city are empty, then people without homes should be allowed to live there. If homes in the city are dilapidated or burnt out, they should be fixed and renovated and people without homes should be allowed to move in.

What’s holding us back? Just one thing: the idea that private property allows an owner to leave perfectly good homes unused while some human beings have nothing; the idea that an owner has more right to profit from their possession than a human being has to a home.

An abundance of housing, yet people without homes. Yet another cruel symptom of the inhumane capitalist system.