LONG BEACH — To David Greta, it was paint from heaven.
"If you want to know the truth, I was praying for enough money to paint my house," said Greta, 35, who is paralyzed from the shoulders down.
Then, last month, the city included Greta's home in its neighborhood-improvement program.
"Some people would call it lucky," Greta said last week as workers scraped weathered yellow paint from his small North Long Beach house. "I call it an answered prayer."
The $1,500 paint job was free to Greta and his 30-year-old wife, Pat, who live on Neece Street in the shadow of the Artesia Freeway.
Their neighborhood is one of eight in Long Beach where $6 million in federal funds is expected to be spent this year as part of a program begun in 1976 to extend redevelopment from the city's high-rise downtown into its many aging neighborhoods. About 38,000 of the city's dwellings, 24% of the housing stock, are at least 45 years old.
'Should Be Top Priority'
"This program is a classic example of how to get at our deteriorating neighborhoods," said Councilman Warren Harwood, whose 9th District includes Greta's house. "This should be our top priority, not just the fancy buildings downtown."
The $6 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is distributed through the city-run Neighborhood Preservation Program. The money will reach families in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods--in downtown, the central city, Westside and North Long Beach.
Neece Street, where the Gretas live, is not among the poorest. It is clean and well-kept with small wood-frame houses and large elm trees.
But its residents are mostly young families and the retired elderly, who have little extra money for home maintenance. And just north of Neece is a low-income, high-crime stretch of Long Beach Boulevard so notorious that police have dubbed it the "war zone."
"If you leave a neighborhood like this alone, there is a snowballing effect where the homeowners move out," Harwood said. "But we have a feeling that things are getting better there now, and things like this program are why."
A neighborhood can qualify for home-improvement assistance if most of its households have annual incomes of less than 80% of the regional median. For a family of four, the qualifying income is $23,050; for a single person, it is $16,150.
Once a neighborhood qualifies and the city designates it a "preservation area," all residents are eligible for some assistance, regardless of income.
Every family may be reimbursed up to $500 for house paint and $500 to rent painting tools. If a resident is over age 62 or physically handicapped, such as David Greta, he can hire others to paint his house, with the city paying a maximum of $1,500. Eligibility certificates must be obtained from the city before work begins.
Trash Hauled by City
In addition, all residents can use large metal trash bins to dump refuse that will be hauled away by the city. All homes are also eligible for graffiti cleanup by city workers, and the city will provide additional paint for later touch-ups.
(In the Willmore City area in southwestern downtown, some residents have even begun painting the houses and apartments of absentee landlords, who have given their written permission, city officials said.)
Low-income residents, those earning less than 80% of the household median, also qualify for up to $25,000 in low-interest home-refurbishment loans that do not have to be paid back until the property is sold. This program has been applied citywide, not just in the preservation zones.
Apartment Owners Helped
And, in a new $500,000-a-year program, the city also lends central-city apartment owners up to $5,000 a unit for renovation if the owners will match the city dollars with their own. No interest is accrued for five years and no payments are required for 10 years. Fourteen owners had borrowed $187,000 and committed $250,000 of their own money by June 30.
The home-loan program is the oldest in the city's housing-renovation effort, which began on a shoestring in 1976. The renovation program has grown dramatically since 1983, with annual budgets of about $6 million in the last fiscal year and this one.
"The city is starting to pay a significant amount of attention to this side of redevelopment," said Greg Devereaux, who runs the renovation program out of the Department of Community Development.
About $23 million in federal funds has been spent here on home
renovation and public improvements that have been offered in 34 designated preservation areas in the last nine years. Of that amount, $15.4 million--an average of $20,000 each--has been borrowed by 772 homeowners to replace roofs, wiring, insulation, foundations and ceilings in old homes, Devereaux said.