For several years, Benito and Carol Lopez toyed reluctantly with the idea of buying a house in the suburbs. How else could a working-class family such as theirs, with one child in a private high school and another about to start parochial school, afford their own home?

But Benito and Carol are city kids. She never learned to drive, and they don't want to move too far from their mothers, Mexican and Dominican immigrants who settled in Washington years ago.

Now they get to stay right here.

Carol, 34, and Benito, 35, won a house through the District's housing lottery, and they plan to fix it up to their liking. They hope their neighborhood will work out as well.

Currently, they live in a Dupont Circle row house with Carol's mother, their 15- and 5-year-old children and a boarder. Carol's mother owns the building, and Carol runs a small day-care center in the basement.

The Lopezes' new place in Columbia Heights--a 2,670-square-foot, three-story brick row house--sits in the 1400 block of Newton Street NW. It is surrounded by illegal boarding houses, boarded-up buildings and run-down, overcrowded apartment complexes. The house, around the corner from the new Columbia Heights Metro station, is assessed at $122,464.

"This is the perfect thing for a struggling family: Get a shell for $250 and get the loan to fix it up," Carol said. "We would never be able to afford something with this much space."

Carol is a bit anxious about her family's safety on their new block. But Richard Kedzior, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission member who represents that block, said crime is not as much an issue as what he calls "quality-of-life nuisances": illegal and crowded rentals, strewed-about trash and the resultant rats.

Yet Carol is hopeful. Already she is planning to talk to neighbors about creating a playground or community garden in the vacant lot down the street. The block, she said, "has got potential."

Benito, a carpenter before he became a marketing associate for a health and financial trade newsletter, looks forward to helping design the renovation and overseeing the rehab. They have been approved for a District Housing Finance Agency rehabilitation loan of $110,000.

"I always wanted an old house to renovate," he said.

Their wishes have come true.