Ernest J. Wolfe, 87, an activist in senior citizen affairs who played a major role in developing two housing projects for the elderly in Silver Spring and Takoma Park, died of cancer March 17 at Washington Adventist Hospital.

Mr. Wolfe conceived the idea for the Takoma Tower Retirement Home and the Leafy House cooperative apartments after his retirement in 1957. He had been a training official with the old Social Security Board and a social studies teacher on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and in Montgomery County.

Besides developing the concept, Mr. Wolfe worked as a catalyst in obtaining federal and local aid for the projects, which provide sheltered housing - including housekeeping, laundry, dining and recreational facilities - for the elderly and handicapped.

He got the idea while working with the National Association of Retired Federal Employes (NARFE) and cooperative groups, and worked to enlist support from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Montgomery County Revenue Authority.

The results were Takoma Tower, a self-supporting retirement home built with money borrowed at a low interest rate from the Montgomery County Revenue Authority and completed in 1971, and Leafy House, a cooperative venture of the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission and the Retirement and Nursing Homes division of NARFE, which Mr. Wolfe helped found for this purpose in 1973.

Mr. Wolfe also produced, wrote and announced a radio program on station WINX called "Oldster's Calendar" for seven years.

In 1977, he received the Montgomery County Commission on Agin's first annual "Older American of the Year" award "for conceiving the idea and finding support" for Takoma Tower and "as founder and chief planner" of Leafy House. The award was presented by Montgomery County executive James Gleason and commission chairman Joseph Brandt in ceremonies attended by county officials.

He also was honored at dedication ceremonies for Leafy House.

Mr. Wolfe was born in Manitou Springs, Colo., and grew up there and in Miami. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in economics from Columbia University.

A resident of Takoma Park, he participated in the founding of the Takoma Park Senior Citizens Club, Coop Inc., and Cedar Lane Unitarian Church. He also served on the board of directors of Leafy House Inc. and as director of NARFE Retirement and Nursing Homes Inc.

Survivors include his wife, Edna, of the home, two sons, Geoffrey E., of Washington, and Bertram A., of Kensington, and three grandchildren.

The family suggest that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Ernest J. Wolfe Memorial Fund, c/o Cedar Lane Unitarian Church, Bethesda.