By Matthew Power. We put that question to American Housing Preservation Corp., the Portland, Maine-based company that's handling the famed basketball player's cash in this transaction. In August, Shaquille O'Neal signed a deal to buy and renovate Section 8 housing in Colorado.

His partner, American Housing Preservation, is guarding his motivation well. "We can't comment. We won't comment," a harried company spokesperson said. "I have a list 27 pages long of people who want information on this deal sitting on my desk right now."

Why such secrecy? Is there more to this deal than a sports celebrity with a big heart? Probably not. Initial reports on the deal suggest that Lakers center O'Neal intends to remodel and improve many of the properties--something that the current owners, Urban Inc. of Englewood, Colo., might not have the cash or the will to undertake. Even with government subsidies, Section 8 housing doesn't pay big dividends.

"It has gotten tougher to do the upkeep as costs have gone up," notes Al Blum, a principal with Urban Inc. "This was probably the largest deal we've ever done. They're buying the entire portfolio."

"These properties were all over the place, mostly away from metro areas, in little rural pockets," Blum explains. "We're already looking to buy new properties--some Section 8--but this time they will be located in metro areas."