'I'm pretty flipped out'

The Baltimore Sun

Kevin McMurtry could hardly believe it when his name was picked from a game-show-style metal bin at Howard County's latest housing lottery drawing.

One of more than 700 people who attended the fair at Long Reach High School on Saturday, McMurtry is now gleefully looking forward to moving his wife, Jessica, and their two children from a cramped apartment in Laurel into a three-bedroom detached house with garage in Jessup -- for $176,480.

"I'm pretty flipped out," said McMurtry, a 42-year-old police officer at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg.

"I couldn't believe they called my name," he said Monday, still slightly shocked.

McMurtry, whose children are 4 and 2, said he is the family's sole supporter and they've been looking for a better place to live for more than four years.

The McMurtrys are one of three moderate-income families chosen randomly for the right to buy a home owned by the Howard County Housing Commission. One rental townhouse also was awarded. The buyers were pre-qualified, but must now obtain mortgages and prepare to move. They will own a majority percentage of each home, and the commission will own the rest.

The event was the latest attempt to draw attention to the county's housing programs. In May, the county is planning to release another batch of new homes as part of the Moderate Income Housing Unit program, which requires builders working in most zones to offer a percentage of new homes at lower prices.

The fair, which was intended to raise awareness of the program, featured booths manned by builders, banks, mortgage companies, realtors and county agencies. There were classes on several topics, bus tours of several developments under construction along the U.S. 1 corridor and door prizes.

County housing officials are trying to find families financially qualified to buy new homes being built under the program.

The last 17 homes the county was ready to award in February drew only nine qualified buyers. The remaining eight, plus another group, will be available to those who register and are pre-qualified during April.

"We have the interest," county housing director Stacy L. Spann said.

However, the difficulty for county officials is finding people with incomes high enough to afford the mortgage even on homes offered at less than market rates.

"I think we're still having folks come and they're below [minimum] incomes and have credit challenges," Spann said, adding that the county is trying to find ways to get more qualified people without lowering requirements.

"This environment doesn't help us that much," he said of the ongoing national mortgage crisis.

The homes awarded Saturday are not MIHU units, but instead owned by the Housing Commission and are changing hands.

The house awarded to the McMurtry family is in New Colony Village and will be vacated by July. In such a case, the commission renovates the home before a new purchaser moves in, officials said. The buyer will own 60 percent of the unit, which means they will pay 60 percent of the property taxes.

Jennifer and Daniel Roberts, a young couple expecting their first child and living with her parents in North Laurel, won the right to buy an 87 percent interest in a two-bedroom condominium in Treover in East Columbia for $156,000.

Xin and Zefeng Wu, another young couple sharing crowded quarters with extended family, won the right to buy another townhouse in the Orchard Club condominium community near the Elkridge Library. The price of an 83 percent share of that unit is $199,000. Xin Wu, whose family emigrated from China, said her parents will live with them in their new house.

The three-bedroom townhouse in North Laurel will cost $850 a month.


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