The lottery house at 5502 13th St. NW was never truly abandoned or even vacant. It ended up in the Homestead Housing Preservation Program's hands in 1997 as an "escheated property," one whose owner has died with no heirs.

And because Ruth Hinton Grant had been a tenant in the Brightwood house for more than 30 years, she automatically had the inside track in the drawing.

Under District law, any tenant has the right of first refusal when a house is sold. Occupied houses that end up in the lottery almost always are picked up by the tenants, lottery director Lynn C. French said.

Grant, at 67 the oldest winner in the lottery's 12-year history, raised seven sons and a daughter in the three-story brick rowhouse. Grant first rented the house in 1964 or '65 through the Washington Interfaith Network, which also helped her find a job.

While the houses on either side of 5502 were kept up, Grant said the half-dozen rental companies she dealt with over the years made no repairs.

"It was livable, but there never was any work done to it, except for painting and patching that I tried to do myself," she recalled.

At her age, Grant was unlikely to get a commercial mortgage and renovation loan, French said. But her longtime tenancy and efforts to maintain the property indicated she would be a good homeowner. French's bet was backed by a city financing package that requires repayment when Grant or her heirs sell the house.

"Our priority, truth be told, is to repopulate the city and to rebuild our tax rolls," French said. "And this is one good way to do it."

The single-family rehab program Grant qualified for is aimed at elderly people whose financial history supports such a loan. Grant, who retired after a series of jobs around the city and cares for an ailing daughter, was eligible for $60,000 plus the city's $10,000 interest-free loan.

Grant also is taking advantage of the city's five-year property-tax exemption for first-time home buyers with limited incomes.

The house was assessed at $112,300 before the renovations. Nearby houses are selling in the range of $90,000 to $120,000.