What Causes Homes To Become Abandoned?

Ever wonder what causes homes to become abandoned?

Homes become abandoned due to lack of employment, increased crime rate, or dangerous environmental hazards such as radiation or contaminated drinking water. Below we explore this phenomenon in more detail.

I’ve been in homes where everything was just left sitting for years. Food in the fridge, dishes in the sink, clothes in the laundry basket. It’s a weird feeling seeing everything in the same place that it was left years ago, and it makes you wonder what happened. In this article, we’ll be exploring what causes abandoned houses, and why someone would leave everything behind.

Deportation & Imprisonment

In 2017, 81,600 people were removed from their residences and deported from the United States. When this happens their belongings as well as their homes can become lost, or seized by the government. While there are procedures in place to collect immigrant’s belongings and return them, that isn’t always what happens.

Depending on the circumstances the home can be sealed and held in a state of ‘limbo’ for years. Often times valuables like jewelry, family photos, home movies, and even the ashes of family members become entombed inside.

I remember entering a small residential home that had sat on a corner for over 5 years. It was early morning and upon entering through the basement into the kitchen, plates were still on the table. The house was a time capsule, and even though the ceiling was caving in due to water damage everything else sat still.

A child’s drawing sits on a kitchen table as the roof caves in above.

There was enough personal information inside that I was able to determine the family was deported after doing further research. Children’s drawings molding on the refrigerator and Christmas decorations still hanging in the August heat is a strange and sad sight to see.

Environmental Hazards

Sometimes conditions in an area can become so unbearable, people just leave everything behind. This can be natural like a volcano or flood, or man-made like radiation exposure or polluted groundwater.

One of the most famous examples of mass exodus is the evacuation of Pripyat in 1986 when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant suffered a catastrophic failure. Authorities evacuated 120,000 people from their homes in the city and surrounding area. Families could only take what they could carry, and many thought that they would be able to return in a few days.

A blown out building in the Chernobyl exclusion zone.

This was not the case.

More recently in 2011 the failure at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant had displaced over 160,000 people. Of those people roughly 80,000 still remain displaced. While some were allowed to return briefly to their homes to retrieve some of their belongings, a majority of the buildings and homes remain abandoned with everything inside.

A sealed off tunnel leading towards the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

Lastly on the island of Montserrat there was a town Plymouth where a volcano erupted multiple times during the 1990s. The island was covered in molten lava and the air was saturated with ash. Conditions became so bad the entire island had to be evacuated. Many of the homes are now destroyed but with such little notice, so were their personal possessions

Lava stopping just short of the airport runway on Montserrat.

Foreclosure

This is broad, but probably accounts for the vast majority of the abandoned homes you will find. When a homeowner is unable to pay their monthly mortgage the lender will take the home as collateral. Usually this means the bank cleans out the property and resells it, but it doesn’t always end up that easy.

In impoverished communities homes become abandoned because homeowners cannot make their payments. The surrounding area usually has a higher crime rate due to lack of jobs, education and overall opportunity. This creates a snowball like effect where home values fall, and those who can leave, leave quickly.

This creates an environment where the population is decreasing, home values have plummeted, and no one is buying. Banks now have swaths of homes that are left rotting and unmaintained while slumlords buy properties cheaply to provide low quality government backed housing for those on government assistance. It’s a complicated problem, and this doesn’t cover all of the factors that go into what causes homes to become abandoned, but it’s an overview on how neighborhood blight can run rampant.

Cities like Flint Michigan are hit hard hit extremely hard where not only are they dealing with the problems above, but they are also suffering from failing infrastructure, contaminated water, and lack of opportunity. 41% of people in Flint live below the poverty line. Cities such as Flint and Detroit which relied so heavily on one company or industry are hit the hardest by layoffs and negative changes in the market. 

What About Businesses?

An old factory in Cincinnati that was converted into lofts.

The reason why businesses become vacant is a lot different and sometimes more complex to understand and explain.

Businesses much like residential homes suffer from declining population and lack of education in the area. Certain businesses that rely on the community itself for commerce such as a grocery store or gym may have to close due to declining sales, inability to fill positions, or theft. Once again this can snowball and cause entire communities to become derelict.

Sometimes a local healthy economy isn’t enough.

Major shifts in industry such as the boom in ecommerce can drastically change communities in a short period of time. Companies such as Amazon and Ebay have driven smaller brick and mortar businesses to bankruptcy. Smaller companies who can’t compete online begin to fade out of existence. With the absence of those physical stores, buildings and strip malls lay dormant waiting to be filled often times for years before getting another tenant.

We see the side effects of this industry shift with the death of malls. Overtime more and more stores are closing their doors and malls are slated for demolition or sale. In a twist of fate, Amazon has been known to purchase the very malls it helped run out of business to build its fulfillment centers.

Amazon isn’t the only company who has disrupted local communities. Detroit famously known for its success in the automotive industry, relied heavily on the Big Three for employment. The Big Three consisted of GM, Ford, and Chrysler and were a major source of economic success and employment in Detroit.

Between 1945 and 1957 the Big Three began to close large plants in the inner city and build multiple smaller plants in the suburbs. This was done to mitigate the risk of a complete shutdown due to labor strikes, which weren’t uncommon at the time.

A flooded factory freezes over in the winter.

Overtime other automakers would go out of business completely as the Big Three and parts manufacturers relocate to other areas of the state and the country. In more recent times, automation has been a threat to employment in the auto industry as well as factories in general. This combined with cheaper labor and parts overseas drives large corporations to seek cheaper alternatives away from American cities.

The reason why homes become abandoned isn’t always an easy one to answer. No matter why they’re left vacant, it’s still a place someone used to call home. Even if the place is trashed, be respectful because you are just a visitor.

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