A taxidermic bear sits among other animals in a room.
In this Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, file photo, a black bear dominates a collection of trophy mounts at a hunting camp in Wilton. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

More homes in Maine are vacant for at least some of the year than in any other state in the country, federal data show.

People do not regularly live in more than one-fifth of the homes across Maine, according to data from the 2020 U.S. census. The U.S. Census Bureau defines a vacant housing unit as one that is uninhabited or is inhabited by those with another primary residence.

The data reflect the clashing elements of Maine culture, from coastal and lakeside communities dominated by seasonal residences to more economically depressed rural areas that have seen homes abandoned. In coastal areas, second homes have been cited as a contributing factor in stark housing shortages.

An astounding 72 percent of Maine’s vacant housing units are used for seasonal, recreational or occasional use, a rate that is only eclipsed by nearby Vermont with a rate of 75 percent, according to 2020 American Community Survey data.

The percentage of vacant units available for rent or sale dropped from 13 percent in 2010 to 9 percent in 2020 even as total housing units grew by 17,000 in Maine, according to census and American Community Survey data.

Maine’s rate of vacant units available for sale or rent was one-third of the national average. That was especially pronounced in the state’s rental market. Just 6 percent of vacant housing units were available for rent compared with 17 percent in the rest of the country.

Maine’s famed summer communities saw astounding vacancy rates. Nearly two-thirds of homes in Rangeley, for example, were unoccupied for part of the year. Other areas with high vacancy rates include Mount Desert Island, the southern coast and parts of Piscataquis County.

Cities have generally low rates. A little more than one-fifth of Portland’s vacant units were available for rent or sale, 11 percent lower than the national average and far lower than the rates in Boston and New York City, according to American Community Survey data.

The rental data do not account for homes rented or sold while inhabited.

The town of Columbia in Washington County had the highest rate of vacant units used for migrant work at 8 percent of all units, while Hersey in Aroostook County had the highest rate of vacant units available for sale at 9 percent and Mexico in Oxford County had the highest rate of vacant units available for rent at 17 percent.