Four years ago, Anatoly Lyumbomirsky emigrated from the Soviet Union to the outskirts of America's capital, soon to discover that there was no gold, or silver, paving the streets of Silver Spring.
By the end of last month, Lyumbomirsky had given up the dream of owning a home of his own in Montgomery County, what with the high cost of housing and the 15 to 18 percent interest rates.
Yesterday morning, at work at his computer analysis office on Colesville Road, he got a call from a Montgomery County official telling him that he had won a county lottery entitling him to purchase a three-bedroom house in Bethesda for only $47,939 -- at an interest rate of less than 8 percent.
"This," said Lyumbomirsky, "is like finding money on the street."
In Montgomery County, where the average cost of a house is $80,000 and rising, the lottery has become about the only way people are able to purchase comparatively inexpensive homes at low interest rates.
The county's afforadable homes program, established three years ago, requires any developer who builds more than 49 housing units to make 15 percent of those homes or condominiums available at low prices and low means. To make up the loss, the developer is alllowed to increase the density in the project.
Since its inception, 600 families have purchased homes under the program, and the county now has a list of 2,500 persons who want to take part in the lottery. Many are immigrants who recently settled in the Silver Spring or Takoma Park areas of the county. They are teachers, secretaries, clerks, store managers and accountants. They earn between $16,900 and $31,900 per -- year the limits set by the county, on a scale that takes into account family size.
Each time homes become available under the program, the lottery applicants receive floor plans from county officials and, if they are still interested, they fill out applications and their names go into a fish bowl, from which the winners are drawn.
On Thursday night, there were 117 names in the fish bowl in the auditorium of the county office buildingin Rockville. Again and again, county worker Terry Magruder stuck herhand into the bowl, drew out a slip of paper and called a name. About 30 men and women sat across from her, hoping their names would be called.
"Anatoly Lyumbomirsky, number one, said Magruder.
"Joyce Barash, number two."
On it went, until Magruder had called out all 117 names. But there were only 10 homes availale, and none ofthe people present were among the first 10.
Huai-Jer Chow and his wife, Li Chun Chow, knew it wasn't necessary to go to the lottery to win, but they were there last night anyway. "I thought mabybe we'd get lucky," he said.
The Chows, who recently moved to Wheaton from Taiwan, live with their four-month-old baby in a two-bedroom appartment at 11509 Amherst Ave. He is an engineer and she is a housewife. They would like to buy a house but they are frightened by high interestrates.
"Last year, I thought nine percent was too high," said Chow. "Now, it's 15 percent. We wanted this house because of the low interest."
The Chows learned about the lottery from Huai-Jer's brother, who won a low interest rate and a moderately priced Montgomery County house in a lottery last year.
A woman who recently came to this country from Korea, Sunhi Kim, attended the lottery Thursday night with her baby and her mother-in-law.
Kim said her mother-in-law "prayed all week" that their name would be selected in the lottery. The Kims live in a two-bedroom apartment on Rockville Pike, and they cannot afford most homes in Montgomery County.
"We wanted to buy a house," said Kim. "To own a house is good. For tax purposes is good."
The Kims went home disappointed.
Maria Parvese, 25, of Silver Spring, said she and her husband will not buy a house until their name is called in a county lottery.
"We've looked on the open marked," said Parvese. "Even in Silver Spring, you can't get a two-bedroom house for less than about $100,000. It's very hard, especially with the interest rate going up."
Parvese grew up in Potomac. She isa student; her husband is a restaurant manager.
Lyumbomirsky, the immigrant from the Soviet Union who was one of the 10 lottery winners, said he wanted to buy a house because he has felt as though he has "no civil rights" in his apartment.
"In the United States, your landlrdcan come in your apartment to fix something without telling you." he said. "In the Soviet Union, no one can enter your apartment without going to a high official.
"It was very important to me to have my own house. Now I can afford one."