The owners of the Roosevelt Hotel for Senior Citizens are negotiating to sell the property at 2101 16th St. NW to a group that intends to convert it gradually into a dormitory for college students on Washington internships.

But the $4.4 million sale hinges on the approval of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which insured the current mortgage at 5 1/4 percent interest in 1962.

"Our financial package is dependent on the assumption of the current mortgage," said William M. Burke, president of the Washington Center for Learning Alternatives, which wants to buy the eight-story building. "We could not pay a mortgage at conventional rates."

HUD is willing to let the center assume the mortgage, according to Larry Dale, HUD's deputy area office manager, only if "the transfer [meets] with the intentions of the original [agreement] which was priority housing for the elderly."

The center's plan, however, is to fill any current vacancies -- or future vacancies that occur as elderly residents die or move elsewhere -- with students.

City officials expressed concern that sale of the Roosevelt, where about 350 elderly now live, would decrease the amount of available housing for the elderly at a time when 1,999 senior citizens are on a waiting list for low income housing. A District housing department spokesman said the city's 3,542 housing units for the elderly are now filled.

The Roosevelt is an elaborate white stone-and-brick structure built in 1919 with intricately carved stone-front balconies and a grand circular driveway. The building occupies a city block directly south of Meridian Hill (Malcolm X) park and is on a corridor where real estate values are rapidly rising.

News of the negotiations worried some residents of the Roosevelt yesterday while others said they had heard rumors of a sale for years.

"If they sell this building and force us out, it's going to be many a tear shed around here," said Arleen Loomis, 77, a Roosevelt resident for about four years.

Loomis sat in the Roosevelt's library playing bridge with Margaret Weiss, 88, and two other women. The women play bridge about four afternoons a week while they wait for dinner to be served in the Roosevelt's dining room, Loomis said.

For $325 to $425 a month, Roosevelt residents, who range from in age from 65 to 97, receive air-conditioned lodging in efficiencies, suites or one-bed room apartments. The monthly fee includes three meals a day, and maid and linen service. Nursing care is provided for an additional charge. The ground and first floors of the Roosevelt contain valet and beauty shops, several doctor's offices, a grocery store, a cash bar and a snack bar.

"This is the only home I've got and if they sell this and I have to leave, it's to the streets for me," Loomis said, throwing her cards to the center of the table at the game's end.

"What I hear worries me," said Weiss, who walks with the aid of a metal walker, "because in our age, we always have to worry about the future."

Manager Albert Laniado said he spent most of the day yesterday reassuring residents that they would not have to leave.

"This is your home, you will stay here," he said, patting the shoulder of one gray-haired woman who cornered him inside the entertainment room. She was dressed in black lace shoes, multicolored print dress and black sweater. She carried a cane.

Burke said the learning alternatives center would gradually move into the building much the same as it did into the Oxford House, an apartment building the organization leases at 1430 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The center now occupies 153 of the 172 apartments in that building, he said, but must vacate by June 1 because of an upcoming rent increase.

Burke said the proposed sale price of $4.4 million includes about $2.9 million remaining on the $4.3 million HUD-insured mortgage, a $1 million second trust for major renovations several years ago and a $500,000 cash payment to settle a property tax debt.

The current owner of the Roosevelt, Philadelphia philanthropist Frances Pew Hayes, a member of the family that founded Sun Oil Co., could not be reached for comment yesterday. Attempts to reach her husband were also unsuccessful, and a hotel management official refused to discuss the possible sale.

"To my knowledge, Mr. Hayes (the current owner's husband) just wants out of the business and he's not looking for a profit, just to break even," said Burke. "That building is easily worth $8 million. He'd like to sell to us because he knows we won't evict anybody.

"The way we look at it, someone else -- a developer -- could come in an make that place a condo, and force the people out," Burke said.