Nearly 120 shabby apartments in Southeast Washington will be renovated and rents for many of their low- and moderate-income tenants cut in half under a new program announced last week by city Housing Director Robert L. Moore.

It will cost an estimated $1.7 million to fix up the apartments -- about $15,000 per unit. Three private landlords, including new City Council member H. R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), own nearly half the units, while the remainder are owned as a cooperative by a group of low-income tenants.

The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will save housing desperately needed by families generally earning less than $20,000 a year by enabling these landlords and low-income property owners to secure bank financing to make major repairs on substandard buildings.

The program also will benefit tenants by setting rents in the privately owned buildings at 25 percent of the tenants' incomes -- about half of what many pay now, Moore said. The program will make up the difference -- and cover the cost of repairs -- through subsidies paid directly to the landlords. The landlords, in turn, agree to rent only to low- and moderate-income families.

In the case of the cooperative, the money will subsidize the mortgage payments of the tenants, who will buy their individual apartment units.

"We were dying because of rent control, so we had to find a way to get around that" to get the buildings repaired, said Charles Parker, who owns 12 apartments at 400 Chesapeake St. that will get new kitchens, bathrooms, plumbing and wiring.

"We need repairs because our buildings are old and run-down and they need help.So when I saw an advertisement in the paper for this program, I applied for it," said Virginia Good, who owns units at 1411 Ridge Place and 1716 28th St. that will be repaired.

Contracts for the program were given out at a ceremony at the city's housing department headquarters last week, and one of the happiest recipients was Barbara Valentine, the president of the tenants' group that bought its dilapidated 67-unit apartment complex on Elvans Road SE in 1979 for $150,000 and has waited ever since for city money to repair the complex.

"It was a stroke of genius that they were able to purchase their building, and then they struggled to get the rehab money," said Moore, describing the 20-year-old garden apartment complex as "leaking and falling down."

"It shows that the government can work for the people and it shows what the people can get the government to do by working for themselves," Valentine said after the ceremony.

During the past year the tenant-owners, most of whom are women who work at low-paying jobs or receive public assistance, have gone to court to collect back rent from 15 tenants who remained in the complex but did not participate in the purchase; replaced a water heater; and paid for thousands of dollars in roof repairs.

Moore said no tenants will be forced to move, because all had incomes low enought to qualify for the government subsidy. A family of four must earn less than $21,600 a year to qualify.

Crawford, who has his own apartment management company, owns a part interest in a 34-unit apartment complex at 840 Chesapeake St., which received some of the housing subsidies given to the city under the federally funded Section 8 moderate rehabilitation program.

Moore said the program was advertised in the newspapers and that 29 owners applied and four were selected.