Spring - and the growing attractiveness of city living - has helped maintain the pace of new home construction in the District of Columbia, an area where rehabilitation has been the name of the game in recent years.

While new housing permits are down in the city for the first five months - 662 units compared with 869 for that period last year - small sites of new homes approved earlier are dotting the city, from Kalorama Road NW - where builder Ray Howar's new Mansard-roof mansions stasrt at $395,000 - to Barnaby Terrace SE, where Seidel Development, Inc.'s, HighPoint town houses are selling in the $40,000s.

Developers are carving out and filling in blocks along Southern Avenue and Naylor Road in Southeast, Buchanan Street and in Fort Lincoln in Northeast and along Swann Street, upper Connecticut Avenue and 16th Street in the Northwest, among others.

Sales representatives at some of the larger projects - such as the 214'unit Beekman Place town house development of Meridian Hill, and at the 239-house Fort Lincoln new town - say the bulk of their buyers are people who already live in the District. Some buyers interviewed recently said they would have had to look to the suburbs for new homes a few years ago, but are now finding a range of construction they can afford.

Additional new housing will become available in coming years as units are built in the developing West End section of the city and along Georgetown's waterfront.

In the meantime, scattered home building has helped fill in some neighborhoods, such as the Buchannan Street tract northeast of Catholic University where Stanley Martin Communities began 92 semi-detached houses last year.

But Micahael Sumichrast, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, says the District's construction amounts to "a drop in the bucket."

Ten years ago, some 8,500 units were being built in the city, 19 per cent of the activity, the economist said. For the first four months of this year, Fairfax County alone issued 3,280 housing permits, 2,479 of them for single-family homes. The massive Burke Centre development, begun a year ago, accounts for much of the new construction there. More than half of the 5,400 lots there are currently in some stage of development.

While suburban Maryland now accounts for less than a third of the area's building activity, according to Sumichrast, building permits in Montgomery County rose from 716 units to 9960 units during the first four months, Commerce Department jfigures show. In Prince George's County, the number rose lightly, from 668 to 686.

For the area as a whole, permits rose form 4,585 to 7,235 in the first four months. Single-family houses accounted for 5,389 of the units.