Before she won the housing lottery for a reduced-price North Laurel townhouse at the annual Howard County Housing Fair, Elsia Hoareau had been having trouble finding an affordable home.
On April 14, Hoareau, a 48-year-old single mother of two teenage boys who was renting in Columbia, won a two-bedroom, two-bath renovated townhouse with environmentally friendly features in the Whiskey Run area of North Laurel, for a reduced price of $140,000.
"I was surprised, and I'm happy because I've been looking for a home," Hoareau said.
Hoareau said she applied for the housing lottery because of her limited income. Lottery applicants must apply ahead of time and must meet certain eligibility requirements, including income requirements.
"I can not go to the private market outside," she said. "That was my only choice, actually."
She added: "I hope it's a nice area."
The Howard County Housing Commission has always held a housing lottery at its annual housing fair, but this was the first year in which two housing lottery winners were drawn. The commission also holds a separate, quarterly housing lottery for its Moderate Income Housing Unit program.
Kyla Sullivan had been hoping to get a place of her own, so when she found out that a housing lottery would be held at the county's annual housing fair, she decided to apply.
The 2011 housing lottery winner, Lisa Barcase, drew the winning name for a home in Elkridge and County Council member Calvin Ball read it aloud: "Kyla Sullivan."
Standing near the back of a crowd of people in the Long Reach High School atrium, Sullivan shrieked; grabbed her daughter, Kaylin; and walked toward the stage, a look of shock on her face.
"It's kind of surreal because you don't think you'll win these kinds of things," Sullivan said about 15 minutes later.
Sullivan, a 29-year-old business operations specialist for a company in Baltimore, has been living with her parents in Columbia.
"My daughter has special needs, and I had to stay home a lot longer because of that," she said.
Sullivan, a single mother, said having the family support at home for the first seven years of Kaylin's life has been great, but with her daughter doing better, Sullivan's ready to live on her own.
"My daughter's getting older, and I'm getting older," she said. "I'm in a really stable place in my life, and it was time to transition."
Though she has not seen the house — a new three-bedroom, three-bath townhouse with energy-saving features in the Howard Square development of Elkridge, reduced to a sale price of $209,813 — Sullivan said she's read about it, and "it sounds amazing.
"I know they have done quite a lot of work to it," she said.
Barcase, who attended the fair to support a co-worker who entered the lottery, said she loves the four-bedroom, 3.5-bath Columbia townhouse she won the opportunity to purchase at a reduced price last year.
"It's been great, definitely a life-changer," she said. "I actually have been pushing the lottery at work and through any of my friends."
Barcase lives with her two sons, who also love the house and the space they have; her 17-year-old has the entire downstairs to himself and her 12-year-old has two rooms to himself.
Several people came up to Barcase at the fair, recognizing her as the previous year's winner.
"It's good to be here," Barcase said. "It brings back the shock and surprise of winning."