More building permits were issued for new houses and apartments in Washington last year than in any year since 1966, according to a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) report.

At the same time, most of Washington's suburbs also experienced sharp increases in residential construction. The COG survey showed that building permits for 23,957 housing units were issued last year for the metropolitan area, largest number since 1973.

Alexandria was the only area jurisdiction issuing fewer buildings permits last year than in 1976, the COG study said. Only 544 units were authorized in Alexandria in 1977, lowest number since 1970.

The most dramatic increase proportionately was in Arlington where 985 permits were issued for construction of houses and apartments last year, compared to 418 permits the previous year.

The COG report said three-fourths of the permits issued last year were for construction of single-family homes.

The report also noted that although the figures for 1977 "are indicative of the substantial recovery of the Washington area's housing construction industry," the number of permits issued last year still was "well below" the amount considered normal for the area during the booming 1960s and the early 1970s.

For some months, many District of Columbia officials and developers have been talking of a housing and commercial construction boom. Construction began last year on almost 2 million square feet of office space, only slightly less than that built during the city's boom years of 1966 and 1967. That amount is expected to rise this year.

And the development wave that long has swept across the suburbs, also appears to be continuing.

According to the COG report, Fairfax City and Falls Church issued permits for the construction of 10,014 units last year, more than any other jurisdiction.

Montgomery County issued permits for 3,798 units, Prince George's County for 3,260, Prince William Country for 2,258 units, Washington for 2,194 units, Arlington County for 985 units and Loudoun County for 904 units.

R. Robert Linowes, president of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade and a lawyer who specializes in real estate development, said yesterday that the development boom will continue for some time.

"I fully expect it to continue well into the next decade," Linowes said. "There may be some slowing at various stages, and there will be periods of overbuilding that will be minimal. The slowdown will be minor and temporary."

COG also released this week the results of a survey conducted in January of apartment vacancy rates in the suburbs. The survey found the overall vacancy rate was 3.13 percent.

The tightest suburban rental housing markets were found in Loudoun County, Fairfax City, Arlington County and Alexandria.