As their 4-year-old daughter sat quietly, Ben and Elizabeth Walker clasped hands and hoped to be chosen for the chance to buy a new three-bedroom town house in Howard County for as little as $153,000.
It didn't work out that way, but the Walkers were one of three families chosen as alternates for the three Ryan homes in the Village Towns development in Elkridge, in case one of those whose names were chosen first by county housing officials isn't able to complete the purchase. The program gives limited-income working families the chance to buy a new home at below-market prices.
The Ellicott City residents smiled after the drawing, stifling their disappointment in what was an unusual opportunity as part of the county's Moderate Income Housing Unit program.
County law requires builders working in 11 zones to include a varying percentage of homes for sale at less-than-retail prices.
In this case, the Ryan homes along the U.S. 1 corridor list for prices starting at $260,000, and the normal MIHU price is about $193,600.
But deputy county housing director Thomas P. Carbo said the county had state money left from an older project that, if not used, would revert to the state. Housing officials decided to offer up to $40,000 as second mortgages for these three homes to give people with annual incomes of $45,000 to $50,000 a chance to buy. Buyers would not have to pay anything toward the second mortgage loans until they sell or refinance, Carbo said.
Two other families who attended the drawing, held two days before Christmas in a spare meeting room in the county's Gateway building, won the chance to buy a home.
Ramendra Shah, 48, a machinist, his wife Parul, 47, a retail worker, and their son Shashank, 23, a Social Security employee, moved to the United States from India in 2000 and could not find a house to buy. They rent in Ellicott City.
"It's very hard to get a house we can afford," Shashank said, speaking for his parents, who speak limited English.
Theirs was the first name pulled from the county's game show-style golden cylinder. The Shahs remained stoic when they won, and Ramendra Shah declared himself "happy" at the result.
Elizabeth Stephen, 46, of Columbia, who said she is a single mother of three children ages 19, 13 and 7, was chosen next. The operations technician for the U.S. Postal Service said she was transferred from Texas two years ago and could not afford a house until now.
Ben Walker, 46, was so nervous he at first couldn't remember his and his 43-year-old wife's correct age. He said he switched careers three years ago and now teaches middle school in Anne Arundel County schools, though the family lives in Ellicott City. For the past five years, they've lived in a basement apartment owned by his wife's relatives. Elizabeth, who said she's a former teacher, does private tutoring.
The couple has looked for a home to buy, especially over the past six months, Ben Walker said, but without success.
"We've been blown away [by prices]," he said before the drawing.
Both said before the drawing that they tried hard not to get their hopes up in case things turned out as they did. They both wore tight smiles as they quickly left after all the names were picked.
But they still have a slim chance. Someone could back out of the deal, and if the three buyers chosen don't need all $120,000 of the second mortgage money, Carbo said there could be some left for a later drawing.