South Salt Lake once was a bit like Siberia.

Most people knew where it was, but few wanted to visit - much less live there. Old and dilapidated housing sent residents searching for refuge elsewhere. Urban flight was contagious.That all changed when the preservation of residential neighborhoods became city fathers' No. 1 priority. And new homes costing as much as $90,000 have begun springing up in what many believe is an unlikely location.

"In an inner city area like South Salt Lake, housing becomes a critical factor," said South Salt Lake Mayor Jim Davis, who spearheaded the city's effort to revitalize its functionally obsolete, pre-World War II homes.

To make the industrial city a more desirable place to live, city officials established two programs to help residents upgrade houses - or buy new ones.Over the past 12 years, more than 100 homeowners have taken advantage of the Housing Rehabilitation Program - their loans total more than $1 million. Many more have revamped single-family, owner-occupied units through the Home Improvement Program, which allowed the city - in partnership with Valley Bank - to lend money at a lower rate.

Improvement efforts didn't stop there.

The city's Redevelopment Agency acquired land. Decayed buildings were torn down and newer homes built. Modern subdivisions sprouted from partnerships with the city and private developers.

Park Creeke, at 3100 South between 300 and 400 East, and South-brooke, 500 East between 3115 South and 3300 South, will add 126 new homes to South Salt Lake when completed this year.

Meanwhile, a third housing development is planned for the city's west side.

Clay and Ginger Lantz are among the hundreds of couples who - thanks to South Salt Lake - were able to buy a new home with immediate access to freeways, shopping locations, schools and churches - at a reasonable price.

While other young couples chased affordable housing in the suburbs, the Lantz family was able to purchase a new, 1,900-square-foot home for $74,000 in Park Creeke - thanks to one of the low-interest loan programs available to South Salt Lake residents.

"That was very appealing to us," Ginger Lantz said. "We'd have to pay $10,000 more for the same home if we either went far west or far south."

But South Salt Lake's new housing developments have drawbacks for some. Ginger Lantz said many homeowners in Park Creeke have complained the homes are poorly built. Yards are smaller, and neighborhoods just two blocks away remain rundown.

Homes in Southbrooke, which range in price from $75,000 to $90,000, are on larger lots.

"As long as we stay in our neighborhood, we feel safe," Ginger Lantz said. "Our kids do go to schools with children of all incomes - mostly low. But I feel if they can handle this, they can handle anything."

Davis says: "It is an urban setting, but it isn't 900 West and 300 South. But it also isn't Holladay Boulevard."

Davis said the new building proj-ects have had a remarkable impact on residents in surrounding neighborhoods, which have been motivated to also take advantage of the city's housing rehabilitation and home improvement programs.

The programs have also boosted the youth population.

"When I first became mayor, we had just closed one elementary school. We have since closed another, plus a junior high school," Davis said.

"Folks predicted that Woodrow Wilson Elementary School wouldn't reach 750 until 1992. It opened this year at 800, and in two years, officials predict it will have 900 students."