The number of nonseasonal vacant houses and apartments on Long Island jumped to 39,348 last year from 22,352 in 2000, a trend that left few communities untouched, new census figures show.
Vacancies went up in 91 percent of Nassau and Suffolk communities, where there were almost a million year-round housing units. Excluding seasonal units, the vacancy rate rose from 2.4 percent to 4 percent.
The statistics reflect fallout from the recession and mortgage meltdown, said foreclosure and housing experts. From 2008 through 2010, lenders took back 3,467 homes here, compared to 1,046 from April 2005 through 2007, the year the subprime lending market imploded, said foreclosure monitor RealtyTrac.
Borrowers abandoned homes worth less than their mortgages, and tight credit narrowed the pool of buyers as the for-sale inventory ballooned, experts said.
The rise in vacancies was notable in working-class areas such as Coram, with a combined 15,437 owner-occupied homes and rentals. Coram had 705 vacancies last year, up from 253 a decade earlier, the census said.
Housing and foreclosure-prevention advocates said they hear more now from Islanders in search of cheaper housing.
"People are doubling up with other folks," said Marianne Garvin, head of the Community Development Corp. of Long Island, which helps borrowers.
Before a property is declared vacant, census workers call three times and visit three times, officials said. If there's still no answer, staffers from a special section of the Census Bureau make a final check.
Statewide, the overall housing vacancy rate was 6.2 percent, up from 5.2 percent in 2000.
Census officials did not give reasons for the vacancies but said foreclosures could show up in several vacancy categories -- in the Island's 10,499 for-sale houses, the 12,211 rentals, the 2,593 houses sold but unoccupied, and about 14,000 properties empty for other reasons.
While rising vacancy rates rang alarms in many communities, experts said there are short-term opportunities to turn single-family homes into needed rentals, give more young and lower-income earners a chance to own, and provide more choice for apartment hunters.
Amityville real estate agent Rosie Bozza said half her sellers are distressed borrowers who eventually try to rent.
But she said the pool of eligible renters has shrunk. Many don't qualify due to wrecked credit, poor job security and lack of upfront money for deposits and rent. Also, Bozza said about a quarter of her home sellers move back with their parents to save and more young adults opt to stay in the nest. That has led to a 5 percent drop in rent prices for houses and apartments, said Bozza, of Above Board Real Estate.
Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate, a force in the industry, said it wants a bigger piece of the expanding rental market. The company set up a rental division last fall in Nassau, with more hires to come.
Falling prices let the Community Development Corp. buy four more Suffolk foreclosures than expected in 2009, when it got $4.5 million in federal aid.
James Vilardi, head of Bedford Construction Group in Valley Stream, and the nonprofit Long Island Housing Partnership is trying to get investors to pool $50 million to buy delinquent loans and work with the borrowers. When times improve, he said, the homeowners can refinance.
"This is essential to saving the real estate industry on Long Island," Vilardi said.
In Mastic Beach Village, where the census says one in 10 housing units was vacant last year, homeowners on Lynbrook Road fear long-term changes resulting from vacancies. One house would be sold, but then another would fall vacant. Some properties were boarded up. Investors turned others into rentals.
Lynbrook Road homeowner Janet Gangloff worries her street will turn into low-income rental row. She lives next to a house that's been empty at least a decade. Both properties have the same picket fence: Hers is white and tidy; the other gray and moldy.
Gangloff said she doesn't want landlords in the area who cut corners on maintenance and maximize profits by allowing overcrowding.
Experts said it'll be hard getting so many vacancies sold and stabilizing home values.
On top of other issues, Fitzgerald said, boarded-up houses are hard sells, but lenders and towns will do that to protect the property: "You're showing the house by flashlight, and you know you're going to get less money than a house with the fireplace crackling and muffins in the oven."
With Candice Ferrette