Demolition of the long-abandoned Baber Village public housing project began yesterday, ending a two-year battle by Prince George's County to eliminate the buildings to make way for new housing development on the Captiol Heights site.

Built in 1968 under a federal Housing and Urban Development program, the 200-unit complex of three-story garden apartments became synonymous with the failure of concentrated housing for low-income families in the county. Faulty construction, vandalism and financial problems led to its total evacuation by 1977.

"We have been working with HUD for two years to upgrade the project, which failed to meet objectives in the past," said County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan in a press release. "The new project on the Baber Village site will provide a much improved living environment for the new tenants," he said.

Problems with the project surfaced as early as 1972 when some 60 of the 200 units were empty. Problems included a site that sloped in such a way that storm sewers were clogged with eroded soil, and sidewalks were flooded in every rain.

By 1974 HUD was planning to spend an additional $2.7 million on Baber Village, which orginally cost $2.9 million, to revive it. But in the next year, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which managed the project, defaulted on the mortgage.

In 1678, after a 1976 plan to demolish one of the five buildings and renovate the remaining ones failed, then-county executive Winfield Kelly announced that he would tear the entire project down. HUD blocked the action in a series of court maneuvers.

HUD's aim was to salvage the project at a time when the county was seeking to end its image as a dumping ground for low-income families and attract more middle-class residents. Studies were made by HUD and the county housing authority, which took over ownership of the property in 1975, but according to housing authority director Earl Morgan, "It became blatantly obvious that it would not make sense to save the bricks just because they were there."

Last September the county came to an agreement with HUD allowing Baber's razing with certain provisions, including reserving 20 percent of any new housing built on the site for rent-subsidized tenants. In addition, HUD will give the county 300 rent subsidy certificates that will allow that number of qualified renters to get federal aid in renting privately developed housing on the site.

The county already has about 1,000 families in scattered subsidized housing under the program, Morgan said.

It took only a few hours for two bulldozers to claw down the first of the four buildings that remained on the site off Central Avenue. Morgan expects the entire job to be completed in about two weeks.

The site is about a half mile from the Addison Road Metro Station, scheduled to open next month. "I hope the arrival of Metro will also signal the development of a better life for this troubled area," said Hogan, who called the demolition "timely because it will allow developers to capitalize on the area's proximity to the new Addison Road Metro."

"We have kind of set a deadline of six months to make a proposal to HUD for redevelopment of the site," said Morgan.

The low bid on the $96,000 demolition contract went to a Northeast Washington minority firm.