I haven't been a renter for eight years.
I purchased my first home (a condo), in Provo Utah and subsidized my mortgage with income from renting out my spare bedrooms to BYU students. It was a good purchase and I value what I learned from the experience about paying bills on-time and fiscal health in general… when I sold it, I made paper profit — it sold for more than I bought it for — but lost on the back-end until I factored-in the off-sets from rental income. I was stunned. I had paid more on my mortgage than I had gained in appreciation. Somewhere along the line, I made the common error of thinking that paper profit was the end goal… and believing the myth that buying is always better than renting.
If you're in the market to buy, or if you're in the mood for a reality check, you'll enjoy this amazing calculator from The New York Times, which lets you compare the true costs of renting versus buying. You may be surprised.
As much as I love owning my home, I am a firm opponent of the idea that renters are "just throwing their money away". It's false on its face for the many buyers without the credit to get a good interest rate and those who plan on selling within a few years... but worse, it ignores the value that housing — regardless of whether it's in a rental or not — offers. There's value in having a roof over your head, just ask a homeless person. And unless you own your home outright, you pay for that privilege.
So why the kerfuffle? Three reasons, really: mortgages are big money, home ownership is part (and parcel?) of the American Dream™, and home-buyers are seen as better citizens by all levels of government.
UPDATE: Another article on the problem with the idea that buying is absolutely the best idea for everyone… this time from Get Rich Slowly.