Life was pretty good in Paradise years ago, before drug dealers turned it into a hell, said one longtime resident, Ricardo Roberts. Now the criminals have been driven out, and the Paradise Manor apartment complex in the District of Columbia is being reborn as a rehabilitated cooperative owned by its low-income residents.

"We're going to keep this place beautiful," said Roberts's mother, Nell Roberts, at a recent ceremony marking completion of the first two buildings, named Miracle Court. A 24-year resident of the complex, she is president of the Paradise Manor Cooperative Inc.

Using a combination of city, federal and private money, Jay Streets Associates, the property owners, are renovating the 653-unit Paradise Manor complex located between Jay and Hayes streets NE, near the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. It is part of an effort to revitalize the once troubled community that includes Mayfair Mansions, a rental apartment project, and the Parkside Townhomes cooperatives. The Kenilworth-Parkside public housing development also is located in the neighborhood.

About 350 people attended the ribbon cutting, including D.C. Council members and federal and city housing officials. Some recalled Paradise's past.

"There was a time when all you could hear over here was gunfire," said D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford, who represents the Ward 7 area where Paradise Manor is located. Crawford said the changes are "truly a miracle."

Within a few weeks, residents of the Paradise apartments that have not yet been renovated will begin moving into the 105 completed units, according to David W. Thomas, a spokesman for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development. Residents of the complex are getting technical and managerial training from the property owners. Sales of shares in the cooperative are scheduled to begin by October 1993 and be completed no later than January 1995, Thomas said.

In the meantime, the newly rehabilitated apartments will be rented for $316 for a one-bedroom unit, $363 for two-bedroom apartments and $405 for three bedrooms.

The city is contributing $3 million from its multifamily residential rehabilitation loan program, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development is providing a $4.5 million loan, according to city officials. Jay Street Associates will spend $2 million on the project. The partnership acquired Paradise Manor in 1986, with the help of the city's distressed-property program, which is allowing the owners to defer payment of about $1 million in water and sewer payments and real estate taxes.

Telesis Corp., the parent company of Jay Street Associates, is coordinating development of the 23-acre site.

A partnership between Maryland's largest bank and James Rouse's Enterprise Foundation will create a loan program for developers that could help create up to 500 housing units for low-income Maryland residents statewide, officials said this week.

Maryland National Bank will act as the limited partner, putting up as much as $10 million for the effort that planners hope will attract developers interested in building or rehabilitating low-income housing.

A subsidiary of the Enterprise Foundation, the Enterprise Social Investment Corp., will be the general partner, having responsibility for choosing projects and acting as underwriter, officials said at a news conference announcing the effort.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said, "The commitment and energy of the private sector are key in solving the housing problems of our cities and rural areas not only in this state but throughout the nation."

Officials said rentals for the new or refurbished units would be based on family size and income, with housing units and accompanying utilities costing no more than 30 percent of the family's income.

For instance, a family of four in the Baltimore metropolitan area with income of about $20,000 a year will be able to rent a new home for less than $400 a month, officials said.

Rouse said he hoped the fund would encourage developers to tap the equity capital to stimulate housing.

"The structure of the new fund will allow the housing to stay low income for a period of time well beyond the minimum compliance period under federal law," Rouse said.

Baltimore has joined efforts with developers to launch a $350 million project to develop 18 miles of the city's waterfront. The Inner Harbor East project will take five to 10 years to complete, and is the largest development project to be launched in the city.

Plans call for the development of 500,000 square feet of space, including an Embassy Suites Hotel, 800 residences, office space and a parking garage.

Developers have agreed to set aside $70 million for minority-owned businesses and $10.5 million for businesses owned by women, Mayor Kurt Schmoke said. The city will provide $3 million to improve roads in the area.

U.S. construction spending climbed 0.4 percent in July to $442.2 billion, mainly on money invested in nonresidential buildings, the Commerce Department reported this week.

The advance follows revised declines of 0.9 percent in both June and May, according to the data compiled by the department's Census Bureau.

Total spending on private construction edged up 0.6 percent in July after dropping 1.5 percent in June, while spending on public construction fell 0.2 percent in July after gaining 0.7 percent in June.

The data in the report are adjusted for seasonal factors and calculated at an annual rate.

"During the first seven months of this year, $247 billion of new construction was put in place, 3 percent above the $239 billion for the same period in 1989," the Commerce Department said.

Most of the July advance was in nonresidential construction, up 2.5 percent following a gain of 1.8 percent in June.

Specifically, spending increased in July on industrial, office, religious, educational and hospital and institutional construction, but declined on hotels and motels, the government said.

Residential construction, which includes home improvements, fell 0.4 percent in July after dropping 3.4 percent in June. Construction on single-family homes was off 1.3 percent in July after declining 3.6 percent in June.

The apartment sector also was hard hit. Spending on dwellings with two or more units dropped 1.6 percent in July after plunging 10.5 percent in June, the department said.

In the public sector, meanwhile, construction spending increased in July on housing and redevelopment, hospitals, sewer systems and military facilities, but decreased on highways and streets and water supply facilities.

Spending on public schools held steady.

IN THE BUSINESS ... The price of an average single-family home increased in 39 states during the first half of 1990, Century 21 Real Estate Corp. reported. The largest average price increase was recorded in Hawaii, where the average single-family home appreciated 26.2 percent so far this year. States in the Northwest saw the next greatest increases: prices in Montana, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming all increased by more than 9.4 percent. Of the 11 states in which prices went down, nine are on the East Coast ... Manna, a local nonprofit housing developer, is launching a drive to raise $800,000 by the end of the year to finance its increased activity. The group, which is usually involved in five to 10 projects at once, is now working on 19 commercial and residential buildings. To coordinate the effort, Tim Siegel, a former director of the Washington Area Community Investment Fund, was hired to fill the newly created position of director of development ... Construction contracts in the District in July totaled $25.3 million, down 84 percent from $159.9 million during July 1989, the F.W. Dodge division of McGraw-Hill reported. In the first seven months of the year, contracts worth $355.9 million were written, down 49 percent from $699.8 million in the first seven months of 1989 ... July home sales in Northern Virginia totaled 1,170, down 39 percent from 1,913 in July 1989, according to the Virginia Association of Realtors. In the January-to-July period, 11,867 homes have sold in the area, down 12 percent from 13,560 in the first seven months of 1989 ... The National Association of Home Builders opened a model of an adaptable home at its Bowie Research Center. The model is outfitted with adaptable features to make it accessible and fire safe to people with various disabilities. The NAHB also reported that a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $114.1 billion was spent on residential remodeling during the first quarter of 1990, an increase of 16.4 percent from $98 billion in the first quarter of 1989 ... Barratt American, a subsidiary of the British home builder Barratt Developments PLC, opened a division in Washington and appointed Roy R. Barnett as president of the division. The company, which has been building homes in Southern California for 10 years, plans to start construction in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs by the end of the year ... The Arlington County Board approved plans for a 10,000-square-foot child care center at Ballston Station. The $80 million, eight-story building, under construction by London & Leeds, will include a mixture of office and retail space ... NVCommercial, a Northern Virginia commercial development firm, plans to build a 400,000-square-foot, five-building office park ... Capital Homes, a Columbia, Md.-based home builder changed its name to Trafalgar House Residential, the name of the British company that acquired it in 1987 ... The Metropolitan Washington chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors has relocated to 4061 Powder Mill Rd. in Calverton ... The Charles E. Smith Cos. completed construction of Research Place I, the first research and development building at the University Center project in Loudoun County ... Eastbanc, a District-based real estate investment bank, acquired the 750,000-square-foot Janaf Shopping Center in Norfolk ... The Enterprise Group Development Corp. purchased 22 acres at Largo Town Center. The firm plans to build four office buildings totaling 545,000 square feet ... David C. Noel and Dennis J. Lane formed a commercial real estate brokerage company. The new firm will be called Noel-Lane Commercial Real Estate Services ... The Mortgage Bankers Association of Metropolitan Washington is planning an afternoon income-property seminar, Wednesday called "Weathering the Storm: Financing Apartment, Office and Retail Properties Through Hard Times," at the National Association of Home Builders. For more information, call (703) 549-9015 ... The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors plans to hold its annual convention Wednesday, from 8 a.m. till 4:30 p.m. at the Baltimore Convention Center. Admission is $15 at the door ... The International Loan Network holds free Saturday seminars on acquiring real estate through tax auctions. For more information, call 1-800-627-7011 ... Women in Retail Real Estate plan to hold a $20 seminar on the auction process in retail real estate at the Bethesda Ramada Inn on Thursday. For details, call 966-7242 ... Metropolitan Mortgage Services is planning a $30 seminar on settlement costs and document review for home buyers and sellers Tuesday at the Gaithersburg Holiday Inn. For details, call (301) 570-4313 ... Prism Realty Inc. is planning a free seminar for first-time home buyers Sept. 20 in Fairfax. For information, call (703) 818-0100.

PERSONNEL FILE ... Xerox Realty Corp. of Leesburg appointed Jan David Reese senior vice president ... William A. Whiteside retired after 20 years from his position as executive director of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. ... Judy W. Richards was named president of Commercial Real Estate Women for the 1990-91 term.