Thomas Brooks, a resident of the H Street NE area for more than 20 years, stood in the mud last Saturday and proudly pointed to the housing and commercial projects being built in his neighborhood. Eleven years earlier, fires from the riots had consumed small stores and rowhouses in the area.

"Another year, and you won't know this place, " Brooks said. "All these beat-up old houses, all these shacks and rat holes are going. What an improvement."

Brooks was one of about 200 persons at 15th and H streets NE who were on hand for the groundbreaking ceremonies for Delta Towers, a 10-story apartment building for the elderly and handicapped.

Mayor Marion Barry and local housing and community leaders joined the sponsors of the project, the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Delta Housing Corporation bought the site from the D.C. Redevelopment Land Agency and will oversee the project. City officials said it is the first project coordinated by the city housing department under the sponsorship of such a group and will be the first elderly housing built in the H Street urban renewal area.

The $7-million building will have commercial space on the first floor, a whirlpool, a sauna and 150 apartments. Sixteen units will be designed for the handicapped. Residents will receive rent subsidies.

The building, which is across the street from the Hechinger Mall now under construction, is expected to be finished by next fall.

The Delta Housing Corporation will use its housing and development fund -- established years ago when the chapter sold its sorority house -- to pay for such things as architectural and consultant fees, recreation equipment and crafts supplies for the building.

"Rather than have that money just sitting there, or using it for ourselves, we decided to look around for a viable project," said Delta Housing Corporation President Alice Davis.

Several speakers Saturday challenged other black groups to sponsor similar projects.

Barry, an Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity member whose wife Effie is a Delta, told the audience, "I'm going to get my Alpha fraternity together. We're going to build us some houses, too. Everybody ought to be doing what the Deltas are doing.

Barry announced that a new program will soon begin to renovate the dilapidated storefront buildings along H Street.

"We're just busting loose in this community," the mayor said. "But we still need to do more."