Ruth Langely, who has worked professionally as an advocate for low-income housing and social welfare programs, has housing problems of her own.

"I need the space of this house," she said as she looked around the cluttered living room of her Rockville home. "Buying a house is a dream that you pay for, so I rent. I'm the only one on the street that does."

Langley has lived on Harrrington Street, a quiet neighborhood of split levels and well-tended lawns, for six years. She pays $435 plus utilities every month and takes in two boarders to help make payments.

"If I pay the utilities one month, then I'm late on the rent," she said, shruggling. "The next month, I pay the rent on time but I'm late with the utilities."

"Ms. Ruth," as her neighbors and frines call her, is a heavyset woman who walks with a limp. She was working for the county as a community organizer when she suffered an injury in 1976. Arthritis and a hip ailment complicated her recovery and she now rreceives $8,000 annually in diability payments. She has been trying to collect Social Security, which she says would mean about $400 more a month, since last November.

"I'm eligible forr a rent subsidy," she said. "Or for an apartment for the handicapped. But I don't want to give up my freedom; I want to live where I want, not where someone tells me."

Her home is comfortable, with lots of pictures on the walls and knick-knacks on the tables. But the kitchen sink is broken and screen door needs fixing -- repairs, Langely says, that she cannot afford to make.

"I'll try everything before I have to call the plumber," she said, laughing, as she looked over at the tools next to the kitchen sink. "But I know I'm going to have to find $100 to pay him eventually, anyhow."

Langley has set up a program in her home to help distribute old clothing and furniture to low-income Montgomery County residents.

"People have so much in this county," she said. "Some folks decide to buy a new stove because they don't like the color of the old one. Then you've got people with nothing, who couls use any stove.

"Moderate-income people are between the two (groups)," she continued. "We have some choices in our lives. But I still have trouble meeting my notes."

Langley lived in Washington and in Prince George's County before moving to Montgomery in 1965. She was divorced in 1952 and has two sons, one of whom she still helps support.

"My father was a minister and made $20 a week. Every payday he'd bring home a carload of bricks. And that's how he built our house out in P.G., she said.

"Those days are passed, I know," she added. "Now you have to pay $20,000 for a down payment and then pay on the mortgage until the day you die. I'd be stupid to do that, even if I had the $20,000 to begin with."