When Bawi Hlun heard his name called as the first winner of Howard County Housing's annual housing lottery, the Savage resident shot out of his seat in the packed Long Reach High School auditorium and flung up his arms in victory.
A second man sitting in the row in front of him, who had come along to serve as his friend's interpreter, also jumped up with arms outstretched a couple seconds later, initially confusing onlookers as to who the actual winner was.
Hlun, a native of Burma who is married and has three children, only speaks Chin and just came to America a year ago, he said through the interpreter.
With a slightly dazed expression, he said in his native tongue that he is "very, very happy" about winning the chance to purchase a ranch-style home in Elkridge for $145,000. The detached, 1,168-square-foot home has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and is yet to be built.
The housing lottery — which offers prequalified buyers a chance to purchase a home priced considerably below market value — is the premier attraction at the annual Come Home to Howard County housing fair, where 60 vendors presented informational seminars on a broad range of topics.
Out of the 145 applications submitted, 41 buyers qualified, said Tiffany Smith, HCH chief of staff. Twenty-two of the 72 applicants for the townhome and 19 of the 73 applicants for the detached home had their names entered into the drawing.
Pricing on the properties was set by the county's Moderate Income Housing Unit Program, which requires developers of new housing in certain districts to sell or rent a portion of their dwellings to moderate-income households, according to the website.
Terry Owens, a former WMAR-TV anchorman who is now communications director for the Howard County Economic Development Authority, pumped up an already excited audience as emcee.
"Are there any dreamers in the room? Forty years ago in Detroit my mother took part in something similar and we moved from a tough neighborhood," he told the gathering. "That changed the trajectory of my life."
Eight gift cards, a 32-inch TV, a $250 rental voucher and an electronic tablet were raffled first, building up to the big event.
"Are we ready to move on to the meat of the program?" Owens asked the vocal crowd, who roared their approval.
After Hlun's name was called, the second winners, who are eligible to buy a newly constructed townhouse in the Shipley's Grant community in Ellicott City for $221,026, were Prajwol Bhattarai and Pragya Dixit.
"When the announcer seemed to stumble over some foreign name, I told [Pragya] 'We're in,' " said Bhattarai. "We're very excited. This is the American dream."
He said he works as an environmental engineer in Washington and his wife works in Baltimore as a teacher of children with special needs, so they had targeted Howard County as the best location for them to live.
"Our apartment has been getting smaller" since the birth of their daughter, Simrika, a year ago, Bhattarai said. "We wanted to be here for the schools, but we felt priced out of our budget."
The married couple has been renting an apartment in northern Baltimore County for five years. The 1,600-square-foot townhouse they can buy has three bedrooms, three baths, a loft and a one-car garage.
Tiara Scott, of Elkridge, was named the winner of a second Shipley's Grant townhome, which had become available just days before the event and added to the lottery.
"Oh, my gosh, I'm still in awe," said Scott, a single mother of two elementary school-aged kids who administers pension plans for federal workers in Washington. "I'd told myself not to get too excited, that if it was meant to happen it would happen. I am truly blessed."
Last year's winner of a three-bedroom detached home in Elkridge came onstage with her son to draw the names.
Donna Heard, who works for the county as a security guard and is a single mother, said she moved into the home last year with 12-year-old Quincey, who attends Mayfield Woods Middle School.
"He got to help decorate his bedroom, and he liked that," she said. "Everything has been just wonderful."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun