For Once, You Can Go Home Again

If her financing goes through, Patricia Tolson will live in this Columbia house, obtained through a county lottery that offers properties at a discount.
If her financing goes through, Patricia Tolson will live in this Columbia house, obtained through a county lottery that offers properties at a discount. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Susan DeFord
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 7, 2007

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman reached for an envelope from the pile at the bottom of the wire cage. The audience of more than 100 at the Oakland Mills High School auditorium Saturday watched the drawing eagerly.

Someone was going to win a chance to buy a newly renovated split-level house in one of Columbia's most established neighborhoods for a bargain price. The envelope slipped from Ulman's hand and fell back into the pile.

Oh well, thought Patricia Tolson, sitting with family and friends in the audience. That's the envelope that had my name on it. Ulman (D) reached again and grabbed another envelope. "Patricia," he announced, pausing dramatically. "Tolson."

The weekend housing fair, called "Come Home to Howard County," had provided the perfect invitation to Tolson. The split-level at 9518 Pamplona Rd. is a few doors down from where Tolson was reared. What's more, her parents still live there. An older brother and his family moved back to the street a couple of years ago. Another brother has bought properties on Pamplona as investments.

And now, most improbably of all, a 35-year-old single mother with a stretch of financial problems, has a good chance of becoming a homeowner for the first time in her life -- the owner of a four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot house that looks brand-new.

"It's a big deal. I don't want to get too excited," she said this week. "I want to sign the bottom line and be handed the keys first."

Tolson is working with Columbia Bank to secure $200,000 in financing. That money would enable her to buy co-ownership in the home. The Howard County Housing Commission, the county's public housing authority, will retain a majority interest in the home, which is valued at $475,000, said Thomas P. Carbo, deputy director of the housing department.

Tolson was one of 28 people out of 90 approved by the housing commission to compete in the lottery. If she does not qualify for bank financing, however, housing officials will work with alternate applicants whose names were also selected at the drawing, Carbo said.

Tolson, who divorced in 2000, has long wanted to buy a house in Howard, where she could raise her 14-year-old son. But for the past three years, mother and son have lived with her parents, Gerald and Diane, after she accumulated more than $40,000 in debt, mainly car payments and credit card bills.

Her father, a retired financial consultant, came up with a strict plan to help her whittle away the debt while she worked as a service representative for the Social Security Administration in Baltimore. And her parents set a deadline of July 1, 2007, for Tolson to be on her own and out of their house.

But Tolson encountered the tough side of Howard's affluence. People such as her, making less than $50,000 a year, can't afford much of the housing in the county. The average single-family house sells for more than $485,000, according to a county study issued last November. The average sale price for a condominium unit last year was more than $273,000. Rent for a one-bedroom apartment averages $960.

"It was really difficult to find what I wanted -- to stay in Howard County," she said. "I grew up here. I have family here."

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