As academics, advocates, and pundits scramble to explain the rising burden of housing costs in American cities, much has been written about the specter of vacant housing. A symptom of wealthy speculators, vacant units indicate that many investors are happy to park their wealth in real estate and profit from growth in land values without the hassle of actually having to build or rent-out empty units. This narrative is often paired with calls for a tax on vacant units, which is expected to push these units into being made available for use by tenants. While there are merits to this argument, it misses the forest for the trees, as it entirely fails to identify and fix two other ways in which scarce space within our cities is wasted: through vacant and/or underutilized urban land. Just like vacant dwellings, vacant and utilized lots are held out of use by speculators when they could instead be housing many more people.
In this article, we will summarize the existing research on the causes and consequences of urban land, which primarily centers on the existence of blighted land in struggling cities.