Drawing puts 9 on path toward owning a home

Lottery aims to help moderate-income buyers

Another round set for next year

Winners qualify to buy townhouses at half-price

Howard County

October 03, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Nearly blind from diabetes and with only one good arm, Bharat Pandya, 51, his wife, Nita, and their two children came to Howard County from India knowing the odds against having a better life were long - but last night those odds changed.

The Pandya family was one of nine winners out of 121 entrants in a moderate-income housing lottery that will enable them to buy a new, luxury townhouse in the Cherrytree Park development for less than half the $240,000 market price.

"We tried our luck. We wanted to stay in Howard County," Bharat said, standing with his daughter Mitali after the televised drawing in the County Council's chamber in Ellicott City.

The Pandyas, now supported by Mitali's earnings at an Anne Arundel County Wal-Mart, and his wife's salary from her bank job, came from their home near Bombay two years ago to be near family in Laurel because of Bharat's illness.

I came for the betterment of my children," said Bharat, whose son, Nilay, 19, is a student at Howard Community College.

"I didn't think that we would win," Mitali said calmly as photographers snapped her picture after the drawing.

Chris Nolan, 24, of Columbia and Vivian Bert, 40, of Ellicott City anxiously watched the cylinder spin and the envelopes drawn, but their luck wasn't quite as good.

Each missed winning by one number.

It's a little disheartening," Nolan said. "It's back to the drawing board for me."

Bert, who had nervously predicted that she would win, said after the drawing, "I feel terrible" and added that coming so close made it worse.

"I wish we could have pulled every envelope out and given a house to buy to every one of you," County Executive James N. Robey said after the nine winners and nine alternates were chosen.

The county will conduct another drawing next year for eight more homes in the Cherrytree Park development, he said. County officials said they might limit the drawing to families with children.

About 10 contestants attended the drawing. Others learned of the outcome later.

"Oh, wow, I won," said Nikia Thomas of Columbia upon hearing from a reporter that she had won. Thomas, who is single and in her 20s, said she expects to have a family someday and wants a house she can afford.

Aaron Fisher, 25, of Jessup, a music teacher in Prince George's County, said he had just about given up on finding a house he could afford.

"It's just been a horrible time for a buyer. This has been just a perfect opportunity," he said. "I was watching [on cable television], but I just never in a million years thought it would be me."

The winners were selected by numbers in envelopes drawn by Robey and other officials. County government television broadcast the 20-minute ceremony live.

"Howard County is the winner," said Leonard S. Vaughan, the county housing administrator, whose department ran the event. "I think it emphasizes the need for affordable housing. It points out that there are persons gainfully employed, working hard and still priced out of the housing market."

Applicants were required to have incomes between $35,600 and $53,120, and winners need $3,056 in cash for closing costs.

The county is struggling to find ways to put working families into new homes as the average home price in Howard edges toward $300,000. With only expensive homes being built, middle-income people are priced out of the new-home market.

Lottery winners may buy the new townhouses for $118,700. The county is adding $21,300 as a second mortgage to cover the rest of the new homes' $140,000 construction cost.

The 2,160-square-foot, brick-front homes have one- or two-car garages. Eight more homes will be awarded to buyers next year, when the 170-home development is further along. Construction of the first houses is scheduled to begin next month.

County law requires large, mixed-use developments to provide at least 10 percent of their units for moderate-income families. More moderate-income homes are planned at two much larger projects - Emerson and Maple Lawn Farms - near the Cherrytree Park townhouse development, just east of the intersection of U.S. 29 and Route 216.

One of the winners, Kenneth Augustin, 37, of Columbia, a bank loan officer, said he, too, has been priced out of the market. County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray told the crowd yesterday that the average home price in the county this spring was $277,000.

Augustin, a seven-year Howard resident, worked last night processing refinancings and couldn't watch the drawings.

"Howard County is a great place to live. I'd like to buy property, but the values are just phenomenally big," he said. His bids on area properties were followed by counteroffers that boosted prices beyond his means.

"I feel pretty nice," he said.

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