If renting would cost more why not put that same money towards buying a place. The extra money would shorten the payment period. It would also build equity and if they stay in one place for a few years they would be much further ahead finance wise. Yes the real estate the last 2 years has been bad. But that is all the more reason to buy now, it will make a come back and add more equity if and when they sell.
It would be more paper work to get in and again when and if they ever sell the property. But the equity that would be built into the property would be their reward for the extra effort put forth.
As long as they don't buy a mobile home this idea works very well. With a mobile home regardless of size the depreciation will eat up any equity they would have.
A house on the other hand if maintained could easily sell for 20 to 30% more than the purchase price without remodeling. If it is remodeled the selling price could easily double the selling price.
So I strongly suggest buying if they are going to be around for a couple of years.