Charles Hewitt took a look at the Pico Rivera house he has lived in for nearly 40 years and sighed. The shower leaked. The chain-link fence was rusted and dented. The picture window was cracked. The paint was peeling.
The 80-year-old Hewitt knew the repair jobs were beyond his abilities and his pocketbook.
"There's not much I can do unless I have some kind of help," Hewitt said. "It takes all your money to survive, let alone improve your property."
Then Hewitt heard about a city-sponsored program that offers free or low-cost home repairs to senior citizens, the disabled and people with low incomes. Within months, Hewitt's home had a new coat of paint, a new shower, fence and picture window. The paint job was free, and Hewitt, with help from his daughter, scraped together $1,700 to pay for the rest of the work.
"I was so grateful and happy for being able to improve my property like that," Hewitt said. "Everything is great. I'm sure satisfied."
Many Southeast cities use federal community development funds to improve housing, generally by arranging low-interest loans or grants to homeowners. But Pico Rivera and Santa Fe Springs offer a more personalized approach in which the city does the work, and often uses federal funds to pay the tab.
Pico Rivera began its "Paint Up-Fix Up" service in 1976, with youth workers from a federal job program doing the repairs, said Bill Shannon, the city's director of housing and community development.
After the job program ended, the city hired four full-time employees to continue the service. In addition to free paint jobs, Pico Rivera workers also perform minor home repairs such as installing door locks and smoke detectors and replacing broken windows.
This year, Pico Rivera is also offering free sandblasting for houses that need another coat of stucco.
In the last 13 years, the city has paid for the painting of nearly 800 homes, and the program's budget has grown from $50,000 to $175,000, Shannon said. Pico Rivera also offers loans to homeowners, some low-interest and some in which payment is deferred until the house is sold.
In Santa Fe Springs, about 900 homes owned by low-income residents have been fixed up since a housing rehabilitation program was started in 1980, said Fernando Tarin, assistant to the director of planning and development. In the 1988-89 fiscal year, the city has budgeted $446,000 for the home repair program. About $160,000 of that money comes from the federal government, and the rest is provided by the Redevelopment Agency.
In addition to free paint jobs, Santa Fe Springs offers a variety of other services such as concrete work, tile replacement, sandblasting, and plumbing work. Luxury work, such as installing swimming pools, is not covered in the program, he added. The repairs usually cost the city from $8,000 to $15,000 per house, he said.
More Than 'Cosmetic Work'
"We do a lot more than the basic cosmetic work that a lot of the cities do," Tarin said.
Santa Fe Springs also is in the home-selling business. The city has purchased three repossessed houses, fixed them up and sold them at cost to low-income residents, Tarin said. To be eligible, a family of four would have income of no more than $19,150, for example.
In addition to providing an opportunity for home ownership, Tarin said the home repurchase program prevents neighborhood decay by fixing up vacant houses that might otherwise become a target for vandalism.
As the home repair programs have grown, so has the waiting list for the service. In Pico Rivera, the wait for a paint job is five to six months. In Santa Fe Springs, it is about 1 1/2 years.
But homeowners such as Richard Heid believe it is worth the wait. His Pico Rivera house was sandblasted and painted for free, and central heating was installed. This week, Heid's roof is scheduled to be replaced.
"It's something the older people need who can't get out there and do it themselves," said Heid, who is 65. "I think it's the most fantastic thing in the world."