The round of applause made 10-month-old Tafsir Islam cry in the arms of his aunt, Sanjida Islam, but they could have been tears of joy. Just seconds before, his parents had won the opportunity to purchase a new three-bedroom townhouse at a below market rate in Ellicott City.

Standing in the crowded atrium of Long Reach High School on Saturday, April 13, Mohammed Islam and Rusella Mirza were announced as the first winners of the Housing Lottery at the Howard County Housing Fair.

The lottery is an annual drawing at Howard County Housing's largest event, which brings more than 55 exhibitors together to discuss homeownership in Howard County. The lottery offers prospective homeowners the chance to purchase homes priced below market value.

The 2013 lottery drew 50 applications for two homes, its most ever, according to event organizer Tracy Gosson. Applicants had to be pre-approved and could only enter the lottery for one home.


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Elkridge resident Donna Heard was the second winner in the lottery. She now has the opportunity to purchase a three-bedroom single-family home to be built in Elkridge.

Heard, a Howard County employee at the Columbia Gateway Business Park, was actually the fourth name drawn in the second lottery. The first three were not in attendance, a requirement to win.

"That house was meant to be hers," said Heard's sister, Debora Robertson.

Islam and Mirza have been renting an apartment in Ellicott City the past two years.

They have not been actively looking to purchase a home because they didn't believe it was possible on Islam's salary as a postdoctoral researcher at Catholic University. Mirza, a former researcher at the National Institutes of Health and University of Maryland, said she is now focusing on raising the couple's two sons.

They said they learned about the lottery through an email and decided to take a chance.

Minutes after the drawing, Mirza said it was an "amazing" feeling, knowing that they now have the opportunity to become first-time homeowners in Howard County.

"We love this place," she said, specifically noting the Howard County Public School System.

Their new townhouse, complete with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and a one-car garage, will be completed in August. The 1,682 square-foot home is priced at $221,154.

The couple said they look forward to having more space in their townhouse.

"This is a big upgrade," Islam said.

Heard, a Howard County resident for 25 years, said she was "surprised and shocked" shortly after the drawing.

"It won't sink in until I move," she said.

Heard is currently renting in Elkridge. Her soon-to-be constructed three-bedroom, two-bath ranch house is in the Deep Run Park community in Elkridge; a community that features a playground, swimming pool and clubhouse. The home is priced at $125,000

A security guard at the Gateway Building, Heard said she has not been looking to purchase a home because of the costs and her position at the county was recently changed from full-time to part-time.

She was encouraged to apply for the lottery by friends in the housing department.

"I never expected to win," she said

Heard, a single mother, said she expects to move into the Elkridge home with her two sons, ages 21 and 11.

"This is life-changing event to have something that you can call your own," Heard said.