How The Housing Bust Helps Get Disadvantaged Families Into Plush Homes : Planet Money One family moved into a Las Vegas house with cathedral ceilings and walk-in closets, and got the government to pick up half the rent.
NPR logo How The Housing Bust Helps Get Disadvantaged Families Into Plush Homes

How The Housing Bust Helps Get Disadvantaged Families Into Plush Homes

Homes in Las Vegas Jae C. Hong/AP hide caption

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Jae C. Hong/AP

Some property owners are finding that the best tenant for their unoccupied houses is the government.

That's why increasing numbers of low-income people who qualify for subsidized housing-- known as Section 8 tenants-- are finding themselves in some pretty plush digs, the Wall Street Journal's Dawn Wotapka reports. About 2 million families nationwide qualify for the program.

The Journal profiled a family that left a rundown and cramped St. Louis apartment for a  3-bedroom Las Vegas house featuring cathedral ceilings and walk-in closets. That kind of place would normally be beyond the reach of single mother Shawnetta Newburn, who makes $10.50 an hour as a cashier. But the government is paying about half her $1,400 rent.

Overbuilding during recent years has left lots of pretty nice houses on the market. Now, owners are turning to government programs for help finding tenants. While Section 8 families used to be looked down on, now owners are simply grateful for the guaranteed monthly payments they bring along.

Some of the houses available-- you can see what's on offer under Section 8 in your area here-- are quite eyecatching, with backyard pools and the like. The Journal described the situation as a Section 8 "housing smorgasbord."

A handful of investors are jumping in, buying houses at depressed rates simply because they know they will be able to rent them under the program and turn a yearly profit, even after mortgage payments and property taxes. Arman Davtyan, the owner of the house where Newburn and her three kids live, owns seven houses in Vegas. "Nowhere else does your money make that kind of return," he told the Journal.