As the housing bubble began to burst, starting with buyers in the subprime market, the rest of the economy became affected and spiraled in a downward trend. Some of those who experienced the "American Dream" under Presidents Clinton and Bush turned a blind eye, just as lenders did during this time, and thought they could afford to own a home. People with shoddy credit were suddenly being approved at alarming rates. Not surprisingly they began to fall behind on their payments, leading to a record number of foreclosures.
As the economy has worsened, people have lost their homes for a variety of reasons: unemployment, lack of housing counseling, sickness, and other economic pressures. Since passage of the Housing Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) in July of 2008, Congress has struggled with how best to address the housing market. Most of their focus has been on stabilizing the market for homeownership as opposed to rental programs and homelessness issues, the two latter issues should be more greatly dealt with.
While I would argue that homeownership is more of a right that someone eventually achieves, everyone should have access to shelter. Renters are a population that seemed to have been lost in the shuffle of foreclosures, although many were just as affected by foreclosed rental properties that their landlords fell behind on the payments. There are more foreclosed properties sitting empty than at any other time in America's history. Most of these remain for a potential homebuyer.
Thousands of homes that have been foreclosed upon could be turned into rental projects with guidance from HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Veterans' Affairs, USDA, and the FDIC. The FDIC in particular is selling foreclosed property in bulk, without restrictions. There should be more of an effort to develop some of these foreclosed multifamily units into rentals.
During the housing boom of the late 1990s until the bubble burst in 2008, the Clinton and Bush Administrations boasted that record numbers of Americans were homeowners, particularly citing increases among minority homeowners. The "American Dream" was finally being realized under their watch, and lenders were definitely along for the ride. It was as if the mortgage market turned into "The Price is Right", and anyone could come on down be approved for a loan.