Thirteen years after she first applied for public housing, Alice Lowery has a place of her own. The mother of three, who for years was one of the thousands of names on the District's public housing waiting list, moved into a two-bedroom Southeast public housing unit on Wednesday.

Within hours after city housing officials told Lowery they had a home for her, the 33-year-old woman had looked at the place, plunked down a month's rent and a security deposit, picked up the keys and packed up her belongings.

By nightfall, Lowery and her 15-year-old son Malcolm had moved in.

"I feel like I'm on top of the world," Lowery said yesterday, sitting on a pile of blankets and pillows in the living room of her new apartment. "I feel like it's all a dream -- but I don't want to wake up."

Lowery, whose difficulties finding housing were reported in The Washington Post last week, was on a waiting list for public housing that has grown to 13,000 families. Like most of the others on the list, she is a single mother with children and has been waiting for years for an apartment opening.

Until her troubles were publicized, Lowery and Malcolm had been renting one room from a family that lives in a Northeast public housing project. A 13-year-old son lived with his father in "I wasn't going to let this opportunity pass me by." -- Alice Lowery Southeast because there was not enough room for him, and a daughter, 17, who suffers from depression and a nervous disorder, had left the cramped room to live with a godmother.

Her daughter is moving in before Christmas, as soon as Lowery buys some mattresses. The two of them will share a bedroom.

Lowery's 15-year-old son, once forced to share a room with his mother and older sister, now has a room of his own. The younger son will continue to live with his father, though Lowery said she expects "he'll be over here more often" now that the family's living quarters are not so cramped.

There is no stove in the apartment yet, but this has not deflated Lowery's spirits. "I have a hot plate and an electric frying pan, and the manager said he will get me a stove real soon," she said, grinning.

Nor did it bother her that she could not get a refund on the $100 December rent she had already paid her landlords at her old residence. She still managed to scrape up the $74 rent and $25 deposit she had to pay for her new apartment.

"I wasn't going to let this opportunity pass me by," said Lowery. "I'm trying to get myself back together so I can go back to work now." She quit her custodial job a year ago to look after her daughter. "I can't believe we get to get a big tree and decorate it this year," she said, shaking her head. "This is the best Christmas present I ever had."