One of the District's oldest public housing projects soon will receive more than $7 million in rehabilitation and management funds, federal officials announced this week.

Patricia Roberts Harris, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said at a presss conference this week that the James Creek public housing project, bordered by M. O. First and Half streets SW, is one of 33 public housing projects in the country that will receive $259 million for upgrading. An additional 34 public housing agencies across the country will receive $5 million to install or modernize their budgeting systems, she said.

Harris said the new program, "Public Housing Urban Initiatives," is the "most comprehensive project aid program ever in the department." The program combines the efforts of HUD and the departments of Labor, Justice and Interior to restore rundown public housing projects and revitalize neighborhoods, particularly in large urban areas.

The aid is being targeted for "some of the most famous and most distressed housing projects in the country," Harris added.

The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development will receive $7.1 million for James Creek. The money will be used to make exterior improvements, remodel baths and kitchens, repair electrical and heating systems, install new roofs and gutters and improve security. Monteria Ivey, head of the property management administration of the city department, said James Creek, a 267 unit complex that houses about 1,000 persons, was built in 1942 and is one of the oldest in the city.

Another $350,000 in HUD funds will go to the housing departments to improve management of the James Creek project. Ivey said the department has proposed that tenants eventually form a management corporation once the rehabilitation is completed.

Ivey said city housing officials are to meet with HUD officials later this week concerning James Creek. "We're ready to start now," he said.

At James Creek, a complex of two-story, red-and-brown brick townhouse-style apartments surrounded by two other public housing projects, tenants had no problem listing repairs that are needed.

Tenant association president Ruther Henry, an 18-year tenant and the mother of nine children, pointed to garbage and trash in the alleys. The apartments need screen doors, new electrical switches and ventilators that work, she added.

Ernest Campbell said his building has broken cabinets, broken pipes, a hole in the ceiling of his pantry and missing steps on the stairway to the second floor. A fire destroyed the back bedroom of Joyce Jenning's apartment, and it still hasn't been repaired, she said.

Anna Charity put the problem succinctly: "I need a whole house - windows, screen and everything. Everything."

And Leola Cephas, who has lived at James Creek since the 1940s and has electrical outlets that don't work and a hole in the apartment's drain pipe, said about the planned improvements. "It's about time."

The decision to pour federal funds into upgrading problem-plagued housing projects marks a distinct break from past HUD actions. In the early 1970s, officials used dynamite to demolish the infamous Pruitt-Igoe public housing project in St. Louis. The $36-million apartment complex had deteriorated into a vertical slum dubbed "The Monster."

"In the past, the solution to distress in housing projects was to tear the projects down," Harris noted at the press conference. "This is not the approach of the Carter administration. We believe that most of these troubled projects can and will be turned around and made into decent places to live and raise families."

James Anderson, director of the project management division of the office of assisted housing management at HUD, noted that HUD received applications asking for $1.5 billion for the program. Obviously, Anderson said, HUD couldn't fund them all, particularly because many cities applied for aid for more than one project. Anderson said the Lincoln Heights project in far Northeast Washington was one project that was not funded. Lincoln Heights was the District's second choice for aid, he noted.