As 19-year-old Doug Johnson talks, Loggins and Messina croon on the stereo. A lime-green pet iguana makes its way around the house plants. In a corner of the dining room, a lighted aquarium sheds a soft glow.

But reality intrudes. Pepco and C&P bills lie on the coffee table and a box of copper pipe that Johnson and his wife Kathy will sell as scrap metal sits nearby.

Doug and Kathy Johnson, both recent graduates of Winston Churchill High, were married last April.

"I know we were young to get married," he said. "Most of our friends aren't."

"But we decided it was right for us now. We work here and we're from here," he continued, "so we want to live here. We want to be around our friends and our families."

The parents of both live in Potomac and the couple always assumed that they, too, would live in Montgomery County.

Then they decided to look for an apartment.

"I couldn't believe it," Doug said simply. "The kicker was when we found a basement apartment, without a kitchen, for $340 a month. We were getting ready to move to Frederick."

Kathy's mother heard a radio announcement for Magruder's Discoveryy, a moderate-income housing complex owned by the county's Housing Opportunities Commission. The couple applied for an apartment there, were accepted and now pay $224, or 25 percent of their monthly income, for a one-bedroom unit.

Kathy works as a storeroom clerk at Sears in Montgomery Mall across from their apartment. Doug is an electrician's apprentice, making $3.50 an hour.

"Our apartment is filled with wedding presents," he said. "The couch, the shelves, the stereo. Sometimes I feel guilty that we have so much and are getting county assistance. But we couldn't do it otherwise."

Although they are under no pressure to move, the Johnsons plan to buy a house and to raise a family someday. In the meantime, Doug will not be a licensed electrician with a steady salary for another four years.

"Montgomery County is chasing out the blue-collar workers," said Doug. "All the useful people -- plumbers, electricians, nurses -- are getting chased away while the lawyers can still afford to live here. Where will we go next?"