In an attempt to improve the maintenance of its public housing projects and increase rent collections, the District of Columbia has decided to allow the tenants of one project to become their own landlords.

City Housing Director Robert L. Moore said the 464-unit Kenilworth Courts project in far Northeast had been selected for the city's first experiment in tenant management. The James Creek project in Southwest also is being considered a possibility for another such experiment.

The city plans to model its first tenant management program after similar projects in six other cities -- St. Louis, Boston, Rochester, Louisville, New Orleans and Jersey City.

The District tried two limited forms of tenant management in the 1970s -- at the Arthur Capper project in Southeast and the Montana Terrace project in Northeast -- but the programs collapsed because of a lack of tenant interest and funding.

At Kenilworth, a five-member executive board of the residents council has been elected and will incorporate before the end of the month.

Then the city will contract with it to run the 20-year-old development of two-story, barrack-like buildings that sprawl over several acres between Eastern Avenue and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

The board, in turn, will hire a manager office staff and maintenance workers from among the project's residents. The staff will have to fix backed-up sinks and toilets, repair broken windows, remove trash and evict neighbors who do not pay their rent.

But first the tenants will receive management training and the city must find the money to make needed repairs at Kenilworth.

Money for renovation is no problem at the James Creek project. The city received $7 million from the federal government more than a year ago to completely modernize the 38-year-old project, one of the oldest in the city.

Kuni Gray, president of the residents council at Kenilworth Gardens, said she believes that full tenant management "will give people a sense that if [the project] is ours and people will keep up their property better."

"I've heard people say, 'I'm not going to fix anything because the government owns it,' but that will change because people will feel "this project belongs to me.

A small group of Kenilworth residents will visit St. Louis and Boston to talk with tenant managers there and see firsthand how those programs operate.