MINNEAPOLIS ( Stockpickr) -- With flashbacks of 2008 still fresh in most people's memories, housing is one investment that many Americans have been afraid of lately. That's understandable anxiety -- leading up to the peak in real estate, many consumers believed that housing prices were immune to drops. But in the months that followed, prices in the fastest-growing regions halved in some cases.Even investors who didn't make outsized bets on housing were shaken by the experience. After all, the drop in housing set off the chain reaction that led the U.S. economy into a prolonged recession that we're still trying to shake off. Frankly, things haven't gotten much better in 2011. So why would anyone want to invest in housing? >>11 Worst-Run Companies of 2011 For starters, there have been some prominent indications that housing may finally be on the upswing. Key metrics such as housing starts and existing home sales appear to have found their respective bottoms in 2009 and 2010, and Wall Street has been materially underestimating housing numbers for much of this year. At the same time, record low mortgage rates have spiked the Homebuyer Affordability Index, a measure of an average American family's ability to purchase a home. In fact, the index is registering near an all-time high at 183.70. Coupled with the large, public bets being made on housing by prominent names such as John Paulson, a reasonable case for housing is starting to shine through for retail investors. The biggest challenge is what to buy to get housing exposure. Not all housing stocks are created equal. Today, we'll take a look at five housing names that actually make sense in this market.