A Washington father who said he was unemployed and unable to provide for his family was charged with homicide yesterday after his 9-month-old son was found dead of malnutrition in the bedroom of the man's Northeast apartment, D.C. police said.

A second son, aged 2 1/2, also was found suffering from malnutrition in the apartment, located atop a barber shop at 2029 Benning Rd. NE, police said. He was listed in stable condition yesterday at Children's Hospital.

The dead infant was identified as Keith Roddy and the hospitalized child as Lynn Roddy. Their father, Keith Lynn Roddy, 29, who reportedly told police he was feeding his children water, was charged with homicide and will be arraigned today in D.C. Superior Court.

Dr. James Luke, the D.C. medical examiner, said this was the first death from starvation in the city since 1971. He said he could not tell from a preliminary examination how long the infant had been dead.

Audrey Rowe, D.C. commissioner of social services, said her office is familiar with the family, and that the mother of the two boys lives elsewhere in Northeast with three other children. The parents apparently had agreed to allow the father to care for the two boys, Rowe said.

Police said yesterday that they learned of the incident when Roddy, who police said was on probation for a narcotics conviction, called his probation officer to say that there was something wrong with the children.

The probation officer went to the apartment with two social workers and called police after they discovered the two children.

Police said that the father subsequently called police and threatened to commit suicide, but that the probation officer kept him on the telephone long enough for the call to be traced to a phone booth in Northeast, where police arrested him.

Police said Roddy told them that he had been unable to find work or food and had been to several agencies looking for employment.

Rowe said that city protective services workers had received an anonymous telephone call on Dec. 27, warning that children at the apartment were not being cared for, but that a protective services worker was unable to gain access to the apartment in two attempts to check on the children.

"Our people never got access to the place," Rowe said.

Daniel Platt, a neighbor, said he believed that Roddy had moved into the apartment last November. "It's a sad thing. I feel very badly about it. If he had just said something to someone we could have helped," said Platt.