After the bubble burst

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America's housing bust created both winners and losers – and homeowners have been the biggest losers. Last year, the rate of homeownership in the US hit its lowest point since the 1960s.

So who are the winners? This episode of Reveal takes you into the world of people who are still profiting, from rent-to-own investors in Detroit to President Donald Trump's best friend, a real estate mogul.

Reveal's Aaron Glantz looks at the national home rental empire that Trump's friend Tom Barrack created from the ashes of the foreclosure crisis. Barrack is good at profiting from others' misery – his business model is based on a fast-churning cycle of penalty fees and eviction notices. Having made millions from single-family rentals, Barrack began leveraging his profit by bundling the homes into giant mortgage-backed securities – an inventive financial product similar to what many remember as a catalyst of the housing crash.

Another lucrative business model that's gained new momentum from the housing crisis is offering “land contracts” to would-be homebuyers. These often predatory contracts promise a pathway to ownership for people who can't get traditional mortgages. It turns out that land contracts are nothing new; they're a big part of the story of housing segregation in America. Host Al Letson talks to a brother and sister who grew up in a Chicago house that their parents bought on contract.

Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett brings listeners to ground zero for the land contract business, Detroit. After the housing bubble burst, tens of thousands of homes in the city went into foreclosure. Investors snapped up the vacant, deteriorating properties, and now offer contracts on them with low down payments. But there can be devastating surprises waiting for the buyers, who are responsible for all repairs and maintenance, and can lose their investment overnight.

Illustration by Anna Vignet for Reveal



Al Letson