Recently writing for Business Insider, Leanna Garfield reported that, “Hundreds of malls and thousands of mall-based stores have shuttered in the past two decades, and many more may close within the next 10 years.”
Meanwhile, homelessness, which had been declining as the Great Recession faded, has started to rise again. The federal government in 2017 reported that there were 554,000 homeless nationwide, including nearly 58,000 families with children.
In Alexandria, Virginia, a nonprofit asked if a recently shuttered mall might provide shelter for those who needed it. As Terrence McCoy writes in the Washington Post, the transformation of Alexandria’s Landmark Mall into a homeless shelter is representative of “a new way of thinking that is bringing together three economic phenomena: the collapse of the brick-and-mortar retail industry, the disappearance of affordable housing in America’s boom towns, and the struggle to reduce homelessness.”
The availability of surplus commercial real estate resulting from the decline of shopping malls is not in doubt. As Christopher Leinberger, chair of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University, explained a year ago to NPR’s Robert Siegel, “It’s the middle-market malls that are in biggest danger of going dark.” Overall, the number of malls in the United States has fallen from 1,500 in the mid-1990s to roughly 1,000 today.