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Participants navigate Howard housing at annual fair

Come Home to Howard County fair attracts a crowd

By Janene Holzberg

12:24 PM EDT, April 14, 2014

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The eighth annual Come Home to Howard County fair on Saturday, April 12 attracted 900 people who spent half of a sunny, 70-degree day at Long Reach High School, sitting in information sessions, taking community tours and hoping to win a housing lottery.

"This is an extremely popular event," observed Shirelle Bennett, deputy director of Howard County Housing, the county's affordable housing provider and developer that sponsors the fair. "People show up with their kids and make a day of it."

The four-hour fair presents "an incredible opportunity" for prospective homebuyers and renters with its one-stop shopping approach to dispensing information, she said.

Advertisements billed the fair as "the only event where you can learn everything you need to know about living in Howard County."

An oversized schedule of 29 free seminars on such topics as down payment assistance, home financing and renovation and renters' insurance greeted visitors at the Columbia school's main entrance. County agencies joined with local banks, real estate firms and insurance companies to present the information in 45-minute sessions.

"People who attend the fair learn how to navigate the system," Bennett said. "We offer something for everyone across the spectrum."

Two Prince George's County co-workers decided to take a break from the fair to enjoy the perfect weather by tailgating in the crowded parking lot.

Julie Roher and Michelle Britt came in hopes of winning the opportunity to purchase one of two newly constructed three-bedroom townhouses in Ellicott City at a price below market value. The second townhouse had become available a week before the event, and had not been announced earlier.

A single-family detached dwelling in Elkridge was also up for grabs. All prospective buyers had to be pre-approved before the event.

"It's jam-packed in there," said Roher, 47, as the friends sat in portable chairs sipping Gatorade by the open trunk of her van. "We each took two classes and they were wonderful."

Roher, a single mother of three, said she is still trying to rebuild her life after a divorce 10 years ago and would love to relocate from Bowie with her three kids. Britt, a remarried mother of three, said she shares a similar goal.

"And we're not competing," Roher said. "We would be happy if either one of us won."

The free classes were offered by 60 vendors, including the North Laurel-Savage Multi-Service Center, a conglomerate of county human services agencies that had exhibit space at the fair for the first time, Bennett said.

About 70 children took part in the Children's Corner, where free activities like face painting and balloon animals by Annie the Clown were coordinated by the county recreation and parks department, Bennett said.

Parents could drop off their kids while they took classes and tours of affordable housing communities in Ellicott City or Elkridge. The narrated tours each provided information on four communities, but only stopped at one property.

Traffic had been steady since the fair opened its doors at 10 a.m., Bennett said, and then an influx of people poured in around 1:30 p.m. to take part in the raffle drawings and housing lottery held in the school auditorium.

Howard County Housing also offers a mini version of the housing fair in October, she said. For more information, go to howardcountyhousing.com.