By Teke WigginAfter splitting from her husband, Tami Wingfield couldn't afford to keep up with the mortgage on the home that they had shared. The monthly $1,600 bill was too much for her to bear alone, and in 2008, she lost the house to foreclosure. Like many people who lost their homes in the housing collapse, Wingfield decided the next logical step was to rent. But that didn't mean she had to give up the lifestyle of a homeowner. Wingfield and her three children have managed to stay in a four-bedroom single-family house all to themselves - they just don't own it. They're part of a new class of American renters that has emerged in the wake of the housing bust: people who lost the houses they owned and are now renting single-family homes. Ironically, many of these rental homes are a reflection of the troubles that once plagued the renters. They used to be owned by other families who lost them in the downturn. Now they're owned and rented out by investors who purchased them at a discount. At least 1.75 million renters in the U.S. have gone down the same path as Wingfield, according todata from analytics firm CoreLogic.
>>10 Home Improvements You're Wasting Time and Money On Wingfield rents her $1,000-a-month home in Goodyear, Ariz., from The Empire Group, a development and investment firm that bought it as a foreclosure. She has a backyard where she's planted a garden, and she's on a desirable suburban street lined with quaint homes just eight miles from the house that she owned with her husband. It's as if hardly anything has changed. Feeling Part of the Community "I am able to provide my daughters and myself a nice home," Wingfield said. "I don't have to find a parking spot when I come home, tired from working double shifts at the hospital. I pull my car into the garage and walk into my house."
>>5 Best Housing Markets for the Next Five Years Being able to maintain a homeowner's lifestyle, even as a renter, has also helped her continue to feel like a part of her community. "You can establish a place in the neighborhood -- get a school for your children," Wingfield said. "The buses run in the neighborhood.... There's parks and sidewalks to walk your dog."
>>10 Worst Things to Forget Before a Major Move As of January, investors are raking in an average 8.6 percent return on their investments annually, according to CoreLogic. That's a 3 percent increase from 2006. And there are 21 million units in the country's single-family rental inventory, putting the size of the market at a whopping $3 trillion, CoreLogic said. That might be a good thing, since millions more borrowers are headed toward foreclosure and may flood the rental market. If that happens, it could continue to push up rental prices and lure more investors into the market, experts have said. 'Conscientious People' Coming Out of a Crisis Many of these single-family renters are like Jacobs' tenants, whom, he said, are "fairly conscientious people that just went through a foreclosure crisis" and want to retain some semblance of homeownership. People like Michael Williams, who lives in Memphis, Tenn. When he couldn't find enough work, he was forced to sell his home in a short sale in 2011 for $110,000 -- nearly $40,000 less than he owed on his mortgage. Now he lives in a single-family rental, which costs him $1,025 a month. He said that he feels "blessed" to still be able to reside in a home of his own close to his old neighborhood.
>>10 Most Convenient Cities in America HomeVestors WFI in Stafford, Texas, which manages about 600 rental properties, said it also may offer tenants the opportunity to buy the homes that they occupy. "We would either sell that home to them or help them how we can," said Rickey Williams, president of HomeVestors. In fact, renters of single-family homes may need to be in the position to buy again -- and soon. With home prices on the rise, many investors may want to sell, said Jed Kolko, chief economist at listing service Trulia. So if the renters aren't ready to buy -- and recently foreclosed-on homeowners may not be -- they'll have to move. Still, the boost in the single-family rental inventory has been a positive force, experts have said. They not only offer comfort to once-beleaguered families, but they help to stabilize the housing market by chipping away at the foreclosure inventory. "It is a good thing for people who need homes to be in homes that need people," Kolko said. More From AOL Real Estate Real Estate Agent Sells House as 'Not Haunted,' 'Fog Resistant' 90% of Bank-Owned Homes Held Off Market, Estimates Suggest Underwater Mortgages Keeping Housing Market Afloat?