Myths and Realities of Low Income Housing

Last Updated: July 24, 2008By

by Bryan Wittenmyer

Before I explain what I believe are myths about lower-income housing let me first clarify a few important points. First, low-income landlording, or even regular middle-income landlording is not for everyone. I’m not one of these guys who says everyone should be a professional landlord. A good portion of the population just isn’t cut out to be anybody’s landlord, or even in business for that matter. Landlording of any stripe or flavor is not easy. It just isn’t.

In addition to that bit of negativity let me add this. Landlording, again any type, is not a rapid one or two year process that will liberate you from all of your money troubles or cares of this world. Professional landlording is very similar to being in business: It requires constant vigilance.

Now having taking the gloss off of income property and having lowered your expectation back to earth, let me very briefly and succinctly explain a few big benefits of income property before we get into my myths and realities segment. I’ll list just three benefits, although there are many, many more.

First, owning real estate assets just makes a whole lot more tax sense than buying and selling, although buying and selling has it’s place in the business world. You can grow large amount of capital faster, starting with virtually no cash, with income properties, than with other assets or businesses. And, ten years from now, you’ll be far better off for it.

Second, while developing a cash flow is no easy trick with income properties, it is like any other business or trade, a developable skill. And, this cash flow will come into your mailbox every month, whether or not you work. Furthermore, once properties have all or most of the debt service paid off, you have what I have coined, Perpetual Income. The income stream from a rental asset can literally be maintained for ten, twenty, even thirty years, without expending or depleting the corpus of the asset. At the end of your rental career, or if you just feel like it, you can sell this undepleted body of capital known as the building.

Third, while many consider landlording a lowly or pitiful career, I consider owing income property as one of the top careers, even glamorous. It has a mystique to it that people respect. I occasionally meet old school mates, and I often hear them ask in wonderment, “I hear you own rental properties.” They say it with amazement.

3 Myths

There are countless books on the market explaining rental properties and landlording. The interesting thing is precious few talk about low-income landlording. Almost like it doesn’t exist. The fact of the matter is, and this is big: Most landlords are engaged in at least some form of low-income housing. Doubt me? Ever hear of Section 8 housing? Hmmm. Seems to me that good ol’ Section 8 housing is low income housing by the governement’s own definition. Here’s another zinger: The vast majority of folks who are full-time housing entrepreneurs are involved in some form of lower-income housing.

The truth of the matter is a huge portion of the tenant populace is classed as lower-income, especially when you factor in their net worth. I hang around dozens of landlords, and at least in my little world, these guys have a lot of low-income rentals. It’s the yield.

So, myth number one: Very few investors are involved in low-income housing, except a hardened bunch of “slumlords”. The reality: a good portion of professional landlords are involved in at least some forms of lower-income housing.

Myth number two: Low-income housing is slum landlording; low-income property investors invest in deplorable and bombed out ghettos where few dare to trod. The reality: There are at least 3 levels of lower-income housing, only one of which is blighted, war-zone property (which by the way, I strongly urge you to avoid) . There is an upper level of lower-income areas which is marginally desirable. This is the area where folks will live and stay and pay their rents. So the point is, there are acceptable and relatively safe areas that technically are lower-income, but depending on interpretation could even be classed lower-middle income.

Myth number three: There are no good, low-income tenants; they all trash property, and don’t pay their rent. The reality: While yes, there are some bad tenants in the bunch, even a higher percentage than in middle-income housing, there is a solid core of folks in the lower-income areas who, when managed properly, will pay their rent and even remain in a house or apartment for several years. There is an art and craft to finding these folks, and occasionally you’ll make the wrong tenant selection, but you can find acceptable rental clientele in the right areas.

What Does All of This Mean?

There are housing needs in lower-income areas that can be serviced with minimal to moderate amounts of risk with a very high yield potential. That potential, is cash flow. Secondly, aggressive investors who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty can at build a cash flow base from which to launch a more upscale rental portfolio. This again is not for everybody. You have to find a comfort level. If any mistake is made, folks buy in too tough of areas. There is a point of diminishing returns in tough areas. It’s all about yield. Don’t even think of messing with lower-income houses unless you absolutely buy at sub-wholesale levels. If the deal isn’t stunningly cheap in terms of price or financing, don’t buy it.


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