LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The foreclosure crisis continues. Banks are repossessing more and more homes from homeowners who cannot make their mortgage payments. In Nevada, about one in every seven homes is now empty, according to a new estimate. But there is a flipside. Home prices are now so low that for some low-income buyers, home ownership is truly within reach.

Sarah McBride reports.

SARAH MCBRIDE: Lady Luck has smiled on David Krueger. He's a waiter at the glitzy Mirage Hotel, right on the main drag. He earns $13 an hour, plus tips. That's about $30,000 a year. His partner makes less than that.

Mr. DAVID KRUEGER (Waiter): This is our little retreat, our loft upstairs. And it's just perfect for a family of three.

MCBRIDE: From some of the windows, Krueger can look west and see mountains. He just bought this three bedroom house for $115,000.

Mr. KRUEGER: This is my son's bedroom...

MCBRIDE: Nearby, many of the houses stand empty. But windows aren't boarded up, and the neighborhood seems more low-key than deserted. And the empty homes didn't keep Krueger away, because to him owning is better than renting.

Mr. KRUEGER: I work hard for a living, and I want my payment to go to something that's going to belong to me and not belong to somebody else.

MCBRIDE: Despite his meager salary, Krueger was able to get a loan because he has good credit. He also qualified for a federal program that helps low-income home buyers. The purchase is especially sweet because Krueger himself knows the pain of foreclosure.

In 2006, his partner bought the family a home, using a risky adjustable rate loan.

Mr. KRUEGER: Our payments went up, almost double, and we had paid nothing on our home. We didn't understand the rates and what was going on.

MCBRIDE: The payments overwhelmed them eventually the bank foreclosed. But Krueger's credit was clean. This time he turned to a non-profit called Nevada Partners. The group helps members of the big Vegas hotel union buy homes, and it gave Krueger $4,000 toward his downpayment.

Mr. JULIO JIMENEZ (Housing Administrator, Nevada Partners): It is a loan. But there's no interest on it, and there's no monthly payments on that loan.

MCBRIDE: Julio Jimenez runs the loan program. It's helped almost 400 families since it started two years ago. That's a lot of waiters and maids who'd still be renting. Some families have received as much as $20,000. Jimenez says they don't have to pay back the loan until they sell or refinance.

Mr. JIMENEZ: Well, the union decided to start putting this program together when the housing boom was still pretty high. They wanted to help workers achieve home ownership because it was difficult to get low to moderate income families into a home.

MCBRIDE: But these days prices are so low, some workers are able to buy homes even without outside help - homes they never could have afforded a few years ago without a dodgy loan.

Lorena Resendiz is a waitress and single mom. She just made a downpayment on a $115,000 home, in a gated community north of town.

Ms. LORENA RESENDIZ: I saved my money for a long time.

MCBRIDE: She and her eight-year-old daughter just moved into the three bedroom house.

Ms. RESENDIZ: You know, it made me feel more stronger, happy, more secure. So I feel so good, yeah.

MCBRIDE: And lucky. During the real estate bubble, she almost bought a $250,000 home, but she got cold feet and backed out the night before signing the papers. After that, she gave up hope of ever owning her own place. But then she found this one. It was half what she would have paid during the bubble.

For NPR News, I'm Sarah McBride.

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