Housing and Urban Development Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. has put an indefinite hold on a $3 million Fairfax County public housing project that had been scheduled for construction in Centreville this summer.

The move marks the second time the Reagan administration has derailed proposed low-income housing plans in Fairfax in response to citizen opposition and pressure from Virginia Republican Rep. Stanford E. Parris.

Pierce directed area officials of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to take no further action on the project, located in the westernmost corner of the suburban county, until his office reviews it thoroughly, he wrote Parris in a letter dated Jan. 11. Parris, a member of the House committee that oversees federal housing programs, said he believes Pierce's action will ultimately doom the proposed 44 town houses.

"I think that's probably code for, 'We're not going to go ahead with it,' " Parris said in an interview yesterday.

The delay is likely to cheer many politicians and civic leaders in Fairfax who oppose the housing authority's policy of scattering new public housing throughout the county's affluent and rapidly developing west. They want the authority to concentrate its diminishing resources on buying and renovating apartments in the older, less wealthy neighborhoods of the inner county.

The Pierce letter dismayed public housing advocates and officials of the Fairfax Redevelopment and Housing Authority, who said yesterday they had not been informed of the letter or the delay. Democratic Supervisor James M. Scott, public housing's strongest supporter on the County Board, reacted angrily to what he called Pierce's "gutless" decision.

"Two days after President Reagan says he's going to turn over responsibility to local governments, his secretary of housing overrides the wishes of this locality," Scott said. "The secretary shows no interest in building housing for people of low and moderate income, but seems intent on caving in to the slightest pressure." Pierce could not be reached for comment.

"The secretary doesn't cave in to any pressure," responded Philip Abrams, general deputy assistant secretary for housing. "He's merely honoring a request to investigate."

The Fairfax housing authority planned to build the town houses at the corner of O'Day Drive and Lee Highway in Centreville. The proposed 14.6-acre site is surrounded by single-family homes with ample back yards, a few paint-peeling shacks and, increasingly, town house developments occupied by young families whose breadwinners commute as much as 30 miles to work in Washington.

Neighbors have opposed the project ever since the housing authority bought the land in November 1980.

The opposition that developed was similar to the controversy initiated by the authority's plans to build Coventry, a proposed subsidized development of 30 single-family homes in Springfield. Parris persuaded federal housing officials to delay that project long enough to force the private developer to bow out.

Christopher Bertrand, a neighbor who opposes the project, said O'Day Drive is too isolated for public housing, and is accessible to stores only by automobile. He also said the houses would lie too close to Rte. I-66.

Deirdre Coyne, spokeswoman for the authority, said most public housing tenants in Fairfax own cars. "That just feeds into the preconception that our families are the lowest of the low income," she said.

Fairfax County, with a population of about 600,000, has 500 public housing units and about 4,500 privately owned homes that receive some form of federal subsidy. Scott said that at least 10,000 families live in substandard or overcrowded housing or pay more than 30 percent of their income for shelter. He said many Fairfax firefighters, teachers and other employes cannot afford to live in the county.

Scott said the authority may not be able to shift funds from Coventry and O'Day Drive to the purchase of apartments being turned into condominiums. "We have no assurance whatsoever that those funds will be available for condo purposes," Scott said. "My bet is we lose all of the money for O'Day and for Coventry, and that would be a real tragedy for the people who have a right to expect some opportunity to live in this county."