Within the next six months Alexandria officials are expected to decide the fate of 201 public housing units occupied by an estimated 550 low-income residents.

A central concern in the issue, which already has generated bitter controversy among tenants in the complexes, is whether the city should commit more of its funds -- which come primarily from property taxes -- to maintain the deteriorating public housing units.

Officials also will address the issue of whether the city wants to give up its control over the housing units in exchange for limited federal funds and whether the city will honor its 8-year-old commitment to maintaining the same number of public housing units in the future as it has in the past.

At a work session on the issue Monday night, the council gave few hints as to whether it will opt for city or federal funds, but the council did pledge to honor its commitment to maintain the same number of housing units.

"This is a senstitive issue," Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. told more than 150 people who crowded into City Council chambers for the joint session between the council and the city's semi-independent housing authority.

Said Eudora Lyles, who owns a house near one of the projects, "The fear in the community is of being dumped. It's as simple as that."

The work session Monday came about because of changes in federal regulations governing public housing. Under the changes, any jurisdiction that accepts federal money for public housing units for at least a year must agree to maintain the public housing units at the same location without additional federal funds for 10 years.

The change struck hard at Alexandria, where the World War II-era mortgages on two public housing projects are about to be paid off. One of the projects, the 111-unit George Parker Homes, is four blocks from City Hall in Old Town, near homes that sell for $150,000 or more.

The other complex, the 90-unit John Roberts Homes, is across from the future Braddock Road subway station, on 6.4 acres currently assessed at $5.8 million.

The city receives about $150,000 a year in federal funds for the two complexes.For the past several months, city officials have been mulling over the concept of selling some of that increasingly valuable land for private development and moving the public housing tenants to another part of the city.

By accepting federal funds, that option would not be open to the city.

"I know $150,000 is nothing to sneeze at, but we spent more than that on less deserving projects," Vice Mayor Robert L. Calhoun said at the meeting monday.

Some city officials have said privately that $150,000 would be only a drop in the bucket in terms of long-term maintainance of the two projects.

One idea that was discussed concerned Section 8 housing funds. Currently, officials noted, nearly half the residents in both housing projects are elderly or disabled. Using Section 8 funds, the city could build new units in the city for those two groups that might be displaced if the city decided to move the two complexes.

At that point, one person from the audience shouted, "What about people who aren't elderly?"

But the point that concerned most audience members was the council pledge to maintain the 1972 level of 1,100 public housing units. That pledge took the form of a City Council resolution as well as a contract between the council and the housing authority.

City Attorney Cyril D. Calley said after the meeting that the contract could be modified only by an agreement between the council and the housing authority. The resolution could be revoked by a 6-to-1 vote of the council.

However, Mayor Beatley firmly committed himself to honoring the pledge and said he knew of "no one on the council" who wanted to change it.

The council scheduled for January further discussion on the issue. A decision on whether to take the $150,000 in federal funds does not have to be made until the housing authority submits its budget to federal officials, expected to come next spring, officials said.