James Eldridge Bess, 54, deputy administrator of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development since 1971 and a member of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Washington for 30 years, died of cancer April 18 at his home in Washington.

Mr. Bess was born in La Crosse, Va., and reared in Washington. He was a graduate of Dunbar High School and American University and earned his law degree at Howard University.

He was a clerk with the Veterans Administration and an editor of a Bureau of National Affairs publication before joining the D.C. government in January 1966. He was an administrative officer with the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment and a hearing officer with the D.C. Zoning Commission before becoming deputy administrator of the Housing and Community Development Department.

At Asbury United Methodist, he was a Sunday school teacher, a Cub Scout troop leader, president of the Men's Ushers and a church trustee. He was a financial officer of the Asbury Child Development Center.

Survivors include his wife, Lorraine, a son, Ronald, and his parents, Bishop and Mrs. Ethan A. Bess, all of Washington; five brothers, Ethan A., of Oxon Hill, Roderick and Rufus, both of Washington, and Stone S. and Merle, both of Silver Spring, and three sisters, Ada Gladden of Concord, Calif., Cynthia Terry of Takoma Park, and Eunice Johnson of Detroit.