Jim Smith, president of the board of directors for Greenbelt Homes Inc. (GHI), said last weekend at a hearing on a proposed $5 million rehabilitation plan for the complex that "if our estimates are rigt, it will be cheaper for us to do this plan than not to do it. That makes it a deal we can hardly afford to refuse."

The rehabilitation plan for the cooperative community of frame, cinder block and brick homes built more than 40 years ago has been four years in the making. The most recent plan, on which members will be asked to vote at a meeting Oct. 18, has been an emotional issue in this close-knit community.

The public meeting Saturday, as well as smaller, private meetings between directors and small groups of residents, are attempts to explain the plan to members and to allay fears of those on fixed incomes who are worried that they will not be able to afford the repairs and will be forced out of their homes.

Under the proposed plan, all GHI homes would get new storm windows, improved insulation, weather stripping for doors and windows, updated electrical wiring, new bathroom and kitchen faucets and other improvements.

The costs per home would be $1,200 to $3,500, depending on whether the home is frame or masonry and on whether some alternatives, such as new siding for frame houses, are exercised.

"Our projected figures indicate that by 1981 the Greenbelt budget will be $4.5 million if we include the investment in these improvements and about $4.5 million if we don't. Fuel costs are rising at least 5 percent a year; we can no longer get parts for window repairs; we have to make the parts by hand. It's expensive. We need to get a handle on it."

The problem for many of the residents who attended the meeting was understanding the plan and what it would entail.

"It's very confusing," said Claire Lynch. "It's very difficult for a layman to understand what needs to be done to these houses and what is a reasonable price to pay to do it.

"We also feel very sorry for people who live here on fixed incomes. These improvement costs are going to hit some of them very hard. I'd like to see my place improved, but I'm lucky. I'm in a position to afford it. A lot of people aren't, and that's bad."

Several residents questioned Smith about the fate of those on fixed incomes who could not afford $1,200 to improve their home.

Smith said GHI had been assured of federal subsidies for 328 of the 1,600 units.

"No one will be forced out of their homes. We will get very good loans from either the state or others and we will get help from community block grant loans," he said.

Smith also reassured those members who had made improvements to their homes. Some residents have already installed storm windows or doors at their own expense. If the improvements were equal to or better than proposed GHI improvements, the homeowner would not be forced to replace the windows or doors or to play for the cost of new storm windows or doors.

A touchier issue - and one that had surfaced in the community during the last few weeks - was that of moistureladen crawl spaces beneath some of the houses. Several residents had charged that the rehabilitation plan did not address itself to this problem and that the problem was potentially a greater one for residents than were new storm doors, insulation and other improvements. They proposed that the whole plan be defeated because it did not include crawl space improvements.

In an angry reply to these charges, one GHI resident accused the others of trying to sabotage the plan.

"If we had a $3 million plan for crawl spaces they would write a letter saying wall insulation and water fancets should be given first priority and that, therefore, the plan should be rejected. I'm sure crawl spaces are a real problem, but I suggest that those agitating on that point come up with a constructive suggestion to include crawl spaces in the plan. Crawl spaces are only a stalking horse to prevent us from doing things we need to do. This program isn't perfect in all respects, but we need to insulate these houses, we need to get on top of rising energy costs, and this plan will at least do that," the resident said.

In an interview after the meeting. Smith said he didn't know how the vote Oct. 18 would go.

"If we get by with a bare majority, though, I'll be disappointed," he said.