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In Japan, 14% homes vacant, more than 42 million empty places in the world

While cities in Japan are overcrowded, rural areas are empty. Overall, about 10% of homes remain vacant among 20 OECD countries.

Empty room in a Japanese house
In Japan, almost 14% of dwellings are permanently empty according to the OECD figures published in May 2021

Data from the OECD last updated in May 2021 shows that about 13.6% of homes in Japan remain permanently vacant. Out of 20 countries studied, 10% of dwellings remain vacant, which accounts for 42 million homes across Asia-Pacific, Europe and America.

It accounts for 8.5 million vacant dwellings out of 62.4 million homes in Japan. The country has the highest ratio of the 20 countries with available data, restricted by national methods of collecting and reporting on the situation.

According to the OECD definition, vacant dwellings only refer to permanently vacant homes and exclude second homes.

Despite crowded cities, the situation in Japan is not new in rural and suburban areas. With an ageing population and declining birth rates, more and more homes in rural areas are empty, causing concerns for their maintenance. Moreover, loopholes in the inheritance system didn’t help reducing abandoned homes.

Japan is closely followed by Cyprus and Hungary, two countries with more than 12% of vacant places.

Graph on vacant dwellings in OECD countries
Percentage of vacant dwellings, out of the total dwelling stock, 2020 or latest year available (OECD)

In the U.S., vacant accommodation makes up for 12 years of house construction

In Cyprus, the situation is explained by the ghost town of Varosha, or Maraş in Turkish, once a touristic destination now a militarized area since 1974.

Overall, the United States gathers more than a third of vacant dwellings of the study, with 15.5M unoccupied residences (11% of the country’s stock). And Brazil is the third country with the most vacant dwellings behind Japan.

On opposite sides, England, Iceland and Switzerland have less than 2% of unoccupied house lots.

In total, there are over 42 million permanently unoccupied dwellings across Asia-pacific, Europe and America, accounting for 9.9% of the total accommodation stock of the 20 countries the OECD studied.

In a country like the United States, there would be enough vacant dwellings to stop building new homes for about 12 years, according to the construction rates of 2018 and 2019. In Canada and France, there is enough housing supply for about another 7 years, and 5 years in the Netherlands, Poland or Australia.

In the 16 countries where such data is available, about two thirds of vacant dwellings are in rural areas, where the vacancy rate is 47% higher than in urban areas. Only Portugal recorded a slightly higher rate of vacancy in urban areas than in rural areas.

Read more about Japan

CountryVacant dwellingsVacant dwellings (%)
United States15,549,00011.1%
Japan8,460,00013.6%
Brazil7,907,00011.1%
France3,085,0007.8%
Canada1,340,0008.7%
Australia1,040,0009.8%
Poland1,038,0007.2%
Colombia879,0006.2%
Chile695,00010.7%
Hungary550,00012.3%
Netherlands344,0004.3%
Finland330,00010.7%
UK (England)226,0000.9%
Ireland183,0009.1%
Denmark170,0005.9%
New Zealand125,0006.7%
Slovenia90,00010.5%
Switzerland72,0001.6%
Cyprus57,00012.5%
Iceland2,0001.5%
Source
Housing market, OECD, May 2021, Free accessIn Cyprus, Get One’s Property Back but Recognize a Turkish Cyprus, Newsendip, July 2021, Free access
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