The District government wants to hire a $50,000-a-year slumlord -- not the proverbial ogre in a heavy overcoat, with an overhanging belly and hand-written account book stuck in his back pocket. But someone with high-class credentials, charm, savvy and political know-how.

The city is searching for a public housing administrator -- and getting few takers.

The job requires someone wiling to work 12- to 14-hour days, answer midnight and predawn telephone calls from tenants who have done without heat and hot water for days and to make promises about beautifying some of the city's most neglected, dilapidated and run-down housing.

"Who would want it?" asked D.C. City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), chairman of the council's housing committee. "It's a real headache."

"Why come to a city where many of the buildings are substandard and many of the people are undiscipined and have gone unchecked for years, paying no rent?" said council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), a former assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Even Sidney Glee, 39 who was a middle-level bureaucrat in the city's health and welfare department until his old college friend, Housing Director Robert L. Moore, made him acting administrator nearly two years ago, first declined to seek the post permanently. Glee later reconsidered, but still shakes his head in frustration when neighbors ask him about life in the upper echelon of city government.

Only two other persons have applied during the four months since the vacancy was announced.

Moore, himself a former public housing chief in Houston, hoped to entice a few applicants from among those departing Capitol Hill and HUD in the aftermath of the Nov. 4 elections. No luck.

The city is searching at a time when public housing in big cities all over the country is old and sick, mired in red ink, laced with crime and drugs. It is ravaged by tenant-inflicted vandalism, years of deferred maintenance and federal government stinginess.

Washington's public housing is not the worst in the country. But it is far from the best. There is a $19 million deficit that has grown up over the years because maintenance and utility costs have outstripped the income received from the tenants and the federal government. Almost half of the 52,000 tenants are behind in their rent, some justifiably and successfully arguing in court that they should not have to pay to live with rats, roaches, broken windows, no heat and lousy plumbing.

The new director will oversee 52 projects that are scattered throughout the city, the majority of them located out of the city's mainstream east of the Anacostia River. Twenty-five percent of the units are so badly decayed and substandard that it would cost more than $60 million to repair them, according to the department's own estimate.

The man or woman who gets the job will be responsible for making sure that 365 boilers in 125 different locations are providing heat to nearly 10 percent of the city's poulation.

He or she will have to evict non-paying tenants over the objections of various city council members and attempt to maintain in decent, safe and sanitary conditions almost 12,000 units of city-owned housing that are filled with elderly women and single mothers and their children and grandchildren. Their average household income, usually solely from public assistance, averages less than $5,000 a year.

The new director also will head a staff of 430 maintenance men, managers, social workers, armed security guards, secretaries and clerks, of which 40 percent "should be eliminated" because "they drink, steal, or are insensitive" to public housing residents, according to Glee.

"You have to be strong, aggressive and very energetic to take the job. Or stupid," said James G. Banks, who held the position from 1971 to 1974.

"You are expected to be not only a manager but a security officer, a social worker and a construction person," said Clyde McHenry, former chief of public housing at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and for the City of New Orleans.

"There are a limited number of people with real experience and they [District officials] are looking for someone who is a director [or deputy director] in a similar size situation, and there's not many of those around," said McHenry. Only nine other cities have more public housing units than does Washington.

While the job is fraught with frustrations it is not totally devoid of attractions, especially in a city where top level jobs in city government have at times offered rare management opportunities to some who have chosen that route.

For example, a Howard University Law School graduate named Walter E. Washington worked his way from the depths of the old Alley Dwelling Authority to the directorship of the city's public housing agency and later became mayor of the city for 11 years.

Washington is now an attorney in private practice. Banks is now executive vice president of the Washington Board of Realtors.

Frustrated D.C. talent scouts now plan to follow the lead of other big cities and advertise the job in national newspapers and the professional magazine of housing officials.

Two years ago when Atlanta officials advertised nationally and hired a consulting firm to help search for a new public housing director, they received more than 100 applications and hired the then deputy director of Detroit. He left after little more than a year. Last week, a veteran of Atlanta city government was appointed to the job.

Newark also searched coast to coast in 1979. After culling through 25 to 50 applications, Newark officials hired the city's former business administrator, who is an ex-city judge.

Last year, New Orleans went through one director in 10 months and then gave the job to a retired assistant police chief.