Cities in danger of a housing crisis — Is yours on the list?

For most people, the housing crisis of 2008 is still a recent and painful memory of precisely how damaging a housing crisis can be. When housing markets aren’t working, it makes it much harder for people to invest in their future and build a home for their families.

For many American cities, there are now some troubling signs that they could be in danger of a housing crisis striking in the future, according to a study from GOBankingRates. The study took a look at things like the percentage of mortgages that have negative equity — meaning the home is ultimately worth less than the total cost of the mortgage, also referred to as being “underwater” on the mortgage — along with vacancy and delinquency rates, scoring each category to come up with a final ranking.

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Cities most at risk of a housing crisis
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Cities most at risk of a housing crisis

54. San Jose, Calif.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 3 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 4,217

San Jose, Calif., has the lowest percentage of homes underwater in the study, but that’s hardly surprising given that the median home value is over $1 million and has jumped over 20 percent over the last year. High home prices that are rising rapidly are most likely keeping many people’s mortgages above water, but they might also be pushing more and more people to find alternatives as San Jose has the lowest rental vacancy rate in the country.

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53. Seattle

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 5.6 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 5,298

Finding housing is harder in Seattle than most places, with the second-lowest homeowner vacancy rate and the third-lowest rental vacancy rate of the cities in this study, and it’s also home to two different neighborhoods that rank among America’s hottest housing markets — Pinehurst and Beacon Hill.

However, for all of the froth surrounding the housing market there, cracks are starting to show: More than one in 20 mortgages are currently underwater.

52. San Francisco

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 3.4 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 3,025

San Francisco — like Bay Area neighbor San Jose — has very low rates of underwater mortgages, possibly due to sky-high home prices that are rapidly rising. However, despite a median home value of over $1.3 million, San Francisco is actually among the cities with the fewest total houses that are 90 days or more late on a mortgage payment.

That said, San Francisco’s housing market appears not to be working for most of its residents: 76.7 percent of the city’s inhabitants can’t afford to buy a home there.

51. Omaha, Neb.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 5.9 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 2,109

Omaha is in generally good shape with regards to homeownership, with the third-fewest total homes underwater on their mortgage and the fewest number of homes with mortgage payments that are 90 days or more late.

50. San Diego

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 6.4 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 11,321

San Diego is potentially starting to run short on supply as the city has the third-lowest homeowner vacancy rate on this list. That housing crunch could be contributing to high costs of living as well. If you’re moving to San Diego from nearby Riverside, you’ll need an additional $82,029 in salary to maintain the same lifestyle, according to a study that looked at the salary increase you need to live in different cities.

49. Denver

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 6 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 6,665

Denver boasts a population of people who appear dedicated to their financial commitments even when they go south. The city has the lowest percentage of underwater mortgages that are also delinquent on payments.

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48. Portland

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 3.7 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 3,889

Out of all the cities in this study, Portland has one of the lowest rates of underwater mortgages.

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47. Nashville, Tenn.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 7 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 6,882

Music City is well known for its contributions to country music, but it’s also one of the cities with the lowest delinquency rates among mortgages with a negative equity value. So, not unlike the heroes of many country songs, Nashville residents appear to be soldiering on even if hard times hit.

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46. Honolulu

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 4.5 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 1,930

The Island State has, ironically, the fewest number of underwater homes of any city in this study as well as the second-fewest total homes that are three months or more late on a mortgage payment. That lack of late payments is especially impressive when you consider that a median home price in the city is over $650,000.

45. Boston

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 9.4 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 5,988

Boston’s housing market could be showing signs of trouble as nearly one out of every 10 mortgages is currently underwater. That means close to 6,000 homeowners in the Boston area are losing money on their mortgages with each payment.

If these sorts of challenges continue, more and more people might have to seriously consider the benefits of owning vs. renting.

44. Minneapolis

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 9.7 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 6,035

Minneapolis’ housing market doesn’t presently seem to be in bad shape, but the 9.7 percent of mortgages that are currently in negative equity could indicate that trouble might be down the road if they can’t reverse the trend.

And life in Minneapolis can be pricey even when you don’t have problems with your mortgage: The city is among the least affordable for foodies.

43. Louisville, Ky.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 9.3 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 5,503

There are over 1,000 homes in Louisville, Ky., that are currently 90 days or more late on their mortgage payments, indicating that there’s a decent population of people in the city struggling to keep up with their housing costs.

That said, Louisville does rank as one of the best cities to own a vacation home.

42. Sacramento, Calif.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 9.2 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 7,543

One might be forgiven for looking at Sacramento and potentially seeing a solid Northern California alternative to the wild real estate markets of the Bay Area. However, Sacramento would also appear to be much closer to a potential housing crisis than its neighbors to the Southwest, so it might be a little soon to assume Sacramento presents an easy solution to climbing home prices.

41. Los Angeles

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 5.4 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 21,073

Living in Los Angeles can be almost as difficult as it is to visit, and for a lot of the same reasons, like traffic and high costs. And those difficulties appear to have spilled over into the area housing market as well, with over 20,000 homeowners currently owing more on their mortgage than the remaining equity is worth.

40. Charlotte, N.C.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 10.3 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 14,141

Charlotte’s the first city in the study to surpass 10 percent for the rate at which mortgages are underwater in the city. However, not all parts of Charlotte are in the same boat. The nearby suburb of Marvin is actually one of the wealthiest cities in the country.

39. Fresno, Calif.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 12.8 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 8,687

A little over one of every eight homes in Fresno is currently underwater on its mortgage, pointing to some potentially tough times on the horizon. That struggle with owning a home could be part of what’s driving the second-lowest rental vacancy rate in the study.

Fresno is a relatively inexpensive place to live, though, as it’s among those cities where you can live comfortably on $60,000 a year.

38. Raleigh, N.C.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 7.8 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 7,160

You can expect $1 million in retirement savings to last 21.51 years in Raleigh, N.C. But for 7,160 homeowners in the area, things might not be looking so rosy as they owe more on their house than it’s worth.

37. Riverside, Calif.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 8.9 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 4,254

Southern California’s Riverside was driven up the rankings largely by a relatively high homeowner vacancy rate of 1.6 percent. And that could continue to rise when any of the 4,000 or so people currently underwater on their mortgage start looking for other solutions.

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36. Washington, D.C.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 9.6 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 8,298

When compared to nearby Baltimore, the nation’s capital is wealthier and more expensive. However, despite higher overall costs of living, home prices aren’t rising fast enough for some 8,298 local homeowners as they’re underwater on their mortgage.

35. Baton Rouge, La.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 9.2 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 5,097

Not only does Baton Rouge, La., have over 5,000 homes underwater on their mortgages, but the city’s rental vacancy rates are alarmingly high when compared to most other cities. If those two factors indicate slipping demand for housing in the area, it could snowball into a much bigger crisis in the long term.

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34. Richmond, Va.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 12.9 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 5,176

Many of Richmond’s homeowners appear to be struggling with a housing market that isn’t nearly as strong as it was when they signed their mortgage. Almost 13 percent of the city’s houses are underwater on their mortgages at the moment.

That said, Richmond is still one of the best places for aspiring millennial homeowners, according to a separate GOBankingRates study.

33. Greensboro, N.C.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 10.1 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 5,401

About one out of every 10 homeowners in Greensboro has a mortgage with negative equity at present, and the city’s rental vacancy rate of 10.3 percent indicates that there is some weakness in the city’s housing market.

However, that weakness could also be contributing to lower costs. Greensboro is one of the cities where your paycheck stretches the furthest.

32. Phoenix

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 11.3 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 24,419

Phoenix is one of the largest cities in the country, so although the percentage of homes that are currently in negative equity isn’t that high when compared to the other cities in this study, the total number of homes that are underwater — almost 25,000 — is among the highest on the list.

Of course, getting by in Phoenix is easier than it is in most cities of its size. It’s one of the cheapest cities in the U.S.

31. Tucson, Ariz.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 14.4 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 15,743

You don’t have to leave Arizona to get to the next city on this list, where similar issues appear to be hitting home. Tucson is in worse shape, though, with almost 15 percent of homes being underwater on their mortgage.

Of course, Tucson is also an even more affordable place to live than even Phoenix — it’s among the 31 U.S. cities where you can afford to live off $50,000 or less.

30. Tulsa, Okla.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 8.9 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 5,117

The city of Tulsa is facing relatively high vacancy rates, with 2 percent of homes going unoccupied and 8.4 percent of rental units without renters.

That excess of supply in rental housing is part of why Tulsa is among the worst cities to own investment property in.

29. Orlando, Fla.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 11.3 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 10,893

Almost 11,000 homes in Orlando are currently worth less than their mortgages, coming out to about 11 percent of the total. And if that weren’t troubling enough for Orlando residents, the routinely rising price of visiting nearby Disney World could just be the icing on the cake.

28. Oklahoma City

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 8.8 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 6,533

Oklahoma City is one of the few cities where you can own a home for $1,000 a month or less. Even at those low costs, plenty of people’s mortgages are still a bad deal for them with more than 6,500 homes currently having negative equity.

Throw in the fact that homeowner and rental vacancies are on the high side, and Oklahoma City could be one area where residents should be concerned about a potential housing crisis.

27. Pittsburgh

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 8.9 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 4,587

Pittsburgh’s rate for homes with a negative equity mortgage is not that high when compared to the rest of this list, but it’s the vacancy rates for both homes and rentals that present the most troubling picture of the Steel City housing market. Those rates — a 2.2 percent homeowner vacancy and 9.8 percent rental vacancy — could indicate an oversupply of housing that could blossom into something more serious.

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26. Atlanta

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 19.5 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 13,307

Atlanta’s 19.5 percent of mortgages underwater is more than double the rate in Pittsburgh, the city that immediately precedes it in the rankings. All told, that translates to over 13,000 homes that currently have negative equity on their mortgages.

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25. Kansas City, Mo.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 19 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 3,371

Nearly one in five homes in Kansas City, Mo., have mortgages that they’re underwater on, indicating a potential for a serious housing crisis in the future. What’s more, with a rental vacancy rate of 9.3 percent, there appears to be plenty of options that could keep residents from entering the market for a house any time soon.

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24. Columbus, Ohio

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 20.8 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 5,017

More than 5,000 Columbus homes are currently tied up in mortgages where the owners owe more than what the remaining equity is worth, making it harder for many people to make a life there. However, if your dream job is being a software developer, you shouldn’t pass up this southern Ohio city. Columbus ranked as the top city for software developers in the U.S.


23. St. Louis

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 15.9 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 6,379

That 15.9 percent of mortgages that are underwater should be enough to give anyone pause, but judging St. Louis by the potential for a meltdown in its housing market alone could be a mistake: It’s among the hottest cities for starting a new business.

22. Miami

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 12.6 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 4,615

Miami is actually not the largest city in Florida, with a population that’s about half that of Jacksonville to the northeast. However, with one in eight mortgages underwater and 1.9 percent of homes going unoccupied, it is a city that could be facing a housing crisis should times get tough.

21. Cincinnati

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 13.1 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 8,025

Cincinnati’s homeowner vacancy rate of 1.9 percent is on the higher side of those considered in this study. Combine that with a rental market where the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment is just $775 a month and a low vacancy rate of just 7 percent, and the numbers start to paint a picture of a city where cheap, plentiful rental options could be contributing to home prices that are stubbornly low.

20. Memphis, Tenn.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 14.9 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 12,016

There are at least 12,000 or so homeowners in Memphis who are singing the blues whether they’re visiting Beale Street or not. That’s because they’re in the 14.9 percent of people who are underwater on their mortgage.

However, for those renting in Memphis, the tune might be a little different: Memphis is one of the cities where you will spend the least on rent over the course of your lifetime.

19. Albuquerque, N.M.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 12.1 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 12,364

Albuquerque has a high homeowner vacancy rate, something that could indicate that supply is outpacing demand and could be a bellwether for more troubling times to come.

That said, although there could be issues in the future with the housing market, retiring to Albuquerque could be worth the risk: It’s one of the best places to live on a fixed income.

18. New Orleans

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 10.6 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 4,300

New Orleans’ 10.6 percent negative equity rate for mortgages is actually on the low side given its high overall ranking — you have to jump all the way down to Pittsburgh at No. 27 to find a city with a lower rate. However, New Orleans was pushed up this list by way of its high vacancy rates. The 2.5 percent homeowner vacancy rate is the second highest in the study, and the 10.8 percent rental vacancy rate is the third highest overall.

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17. Virginia Beach, Va.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 15.3 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 13,056

Not only does Virginia Beach have a high percentage of mortgages that are underwater, but the homeowner vacancy rate is tied with New Orleans for the second highest on this list.

However, even if you’re struggling with a negative equity mortgage, you can take solace in the fact that you’ll be making up for it elsewhere as Virginia Beach is one of the most affordable places to live in the U.S.

16. Milwaukee

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 24.2 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 17,905

Almost a quarter of the mortgages in Milwaukee are leaving their homeowners with a case of buyer’s remorse due to people owing more money than there is home equity left on the house. Add the fact that Milwaukee is one of the worst cities in America to start a small business, and it paints a picture of this Wisconsin burg having some real issues.

15. Tampa, Fla.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 11.4 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 6,010

Tampa has high rates of vacancy both for houses and for rental units, which could indicate that demand is easing up. Although home prices gained 13.7 percent over the last year, that could start slowing down or even reverse if there are still a lot of options for renters and buyers to be pickier about their choices.

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14. Detroit

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 36.2 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 6,543

With over a third of the city’s mortgages underwater, Detroit has the third-highest percentage of mortgages with negative equity. And that’s the primary factor driving Detroit up the rankings into the top 15, as the city scored average to good in most other categories.

Read: The Foreclosure Crisis Is Still Hitting These States Hard

13. Buffalo, N.Y.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 6.3 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 2,060

Buffalo is an enormous outlier this high in the rankings, with just 6.3 percent of area mortgages underwater and the second-fewest total homes with a negative equity mortgage. However, the people who are underwater aren’t so good about paying their bill, as one in 10 homeowners with negative equity are delinquent on their mortgage. Buffalo also has the study’s highest homeowner vacancy rate at 3.2 percent.

12. Toledo, Ohio

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 22.8 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 10,477

Toledo’s high percentage of mortgages that are underwater means that more than one out of every five people with a mortgage is currently losing money on buying their home. Add to that the relatively high rental vacancy rate, and this could be one housing market that could be in trouble.

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11. Philadelphia

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 14.8 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 27,566

Although Philadelphia’s percentage of mortgages that are underwater is much lower than that of Toledo, it has well over double the total number of mortgages in dire straits due to its much larger size. It also has the most total homes that are 90 days or more late on mortgage payments, a sign that a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet.

10. Indianapolis

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 15.5 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 23,130

Nearly 25,000 Indianapolis residents have signed their name to a mortgage that’s currently a loss for them financially. The city also has the second-highest rental vacancy rate, indicating that inhabitants have plenty of alternate options if they don’t want to risk buying a house.

9. Norfolk, Va.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 21.8 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 6,160

High rates of vacant homes on the market usually have a distinct, downward pressure on home prices overall, which can contribute to more people seeing home values slip below what they were expecting when they signed their mortgage. So, the fact that Norfolk’s homeowner vacancy rate is the third highest in the country — in addition to having better than one in five mortgages that are already underwater — could foretell a looming crisis.

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8. Birmingham, Ala.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 20.7 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 4,694

Birmingham, Ala., has the highest rental vacancy rate in this study, giving relatively few people much incentive to consider renting instead of buying. Not only is the percentage of mortgages that are underwater over 20 percent, but Birmingham is also one of the cities where home prices are plummeting — down 13.6 percent year-over-year.

7. Las Vegas

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 16.2 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 33,128

The percentage of underwater mortgages in Las Vegas is the lowest among the top 10 cities in this study, but its size means that it has the second-most total homes with an underwater mortgage at almost 35,000. It also has the third-most homes that are three or more months late on a mortgage payment.

6. Cleveland

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 31.1 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 13,822

Cleveland has one of the highest percentages of homes underwater, with nearly a third of mortgages actively losing their signatories money. That comes out to nearly 14,000 homes with negative equity on their mortgages.

5. Baltimore

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 22.3 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 20,152

It appears low rent and high costs of living could be the perfect storm of conditions that put a housing market into crisis, as people have less incentive to buy and less disposable income to save up for a down payment. And in Baltimore, over 20,000 homes are currently underwater on their mortgages, making things even harder.

4. Jacksonville, Fla.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 39.4 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 5,526

Jacksonville is one of Florida’s largest cities, and it also has one of this study’s largest percentages of mortgages that are underwater at 39.4 percent.

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3. Hartford, Conn.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 43.2 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 3,608

Although Hartford might have just over 3,500 homes that are underwater, that actually translates to a staggering 43.2 percent of the total number of houses — the highest rate in the study. Add to that the third-highest delinquency rate among those with negative equity in their mortgages, and it’s not hard to see how Hartford got to be the poorest city in the state.

2. Chicago

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 22.9 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 71,991

Not only does Chicago have the most total homes with underwater mortgages, it has more than double the number of negative equity mortgages in Las Vegas — the second highest in the study. That means despite having an underwater rate that’s just over half that of Hartford — the No. 3 city — Chicago has almost 20 times as many total houses that are underwater on their mortgages.

1. Newark, N.J.

Percentage of Mortgages Underwater: 29.2 percent
Total Number of Homes Underwater: 4,563

Newark has a variety of troubling signs that could indicate trouble coming in the future, including a 20.4 percent delinquency rate among negative-equity mortgages. Not only is that the highest, but it’s more than twice the second-highest level in Buffalo.

Cities in Danger of a Housing Crisis

There’s obviously no guarantee that any of these cities is headed for a major crisis — be it Newark or San Jose — but there are clearly many housing markets in the U.S. that are starting to show cracks.

And the category that appears to correlate the most with the final rankings was, unsurprisingly, the percentage of mortgages that are currently underwater. Four of the five highest percentages of mortgages with negative equity were among the top six cities in the study, and the fifth city — Detroit — still came in inside the top 15.

Click through if you’re trying to decide if it’s worth it to buy or build a house.


This article originally appeared on Cities in Danger of a Housing Crisis — Is Yours on the List?

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