The General Accounting Office said yesterday that the District of Columbia government had failed to utilize a valuable resource for alleviating its housing shortage by not developing and adequate program to indentify vacant house and put them back on the market.

"The District has been talking about vacant housing for a long time, but has done very little until recently to get such housing back on the market," the GAO report reads. "More needs to be done. The District does not have a specific program for returning these houses to use."

The agency, which is the investigative arm of Congress, said the vacant housing problem was not overwhelming in some area of the city - especially on Capitol Hill - because of private rehabilitation.

But in other parts of the city - specifically Northeast and Southeast - the problem "is likely to remain serious and possibly worsen," GAO said. The return of vacant houses to use would help alleviate the citywide housing shortage for lower-income residents, the agency added.

In a letter accompanying the 24-page report, Lorenzo W. Jacobs, director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, said the GAO assessment was "in general, accurate and fair" but "less positive than would appear to be appropriate."

Jacobs said the agency already has implemented some programs aimed at identifying vacant houses and getting them reoccupied. "As the report also points out, however," Jacobs said, "getting vacant houses back in use in a complex and difficult problem to resolve and the District is pursuing several alternative approaches."

The study said that the restoration of vacant buildings to the city's housing stock could be of valuable assistance in providing shelter for poorer families. According to city statistics cited in the report, 47,000 low-income renter households are living in "substandard, overcrowded or too costly housing."

It found that the city lacked complete and reliable information on vacant and reliable information on vacant houses. Still, the agency said, following a system recommended by GAO, the city was able to identify about 1,300 vacant properties - including 500 that had been vacant for about two years.