The District's housing department will concentrate on increasing residential units in the city, collecting rents at its properties and improving management of public housing, the department's newly named director said last week.

Madeline M. Petty, 40, the mayor's nominee to replace James E. Clay as director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, said she generally plans to continue the direction Clay took at the department, where Petty served as his deputy.

Clay resigned Thursday, citing "very, very personal reasons." He accepted a newly created job as a strategic planner for the city.

Petty said one of her major goals would be to get people who are in public housing into the "economic mainstream" by helping them acquire job skills. This, she said, would enable them to leave public housing, and the city could return to the originally conceived role of public housing as short-term shelter assistance.

"Public housing was not a place where people stayed permanently," Petty said. "Now we have generations of people who live in public housing."

In the meantime, the city has a waiting list of 13,000 for public housing and adds 100 to 125 names to it each week.

"We continue to have a tremendous shortage of available housing," Petty said. "There is not enough money available to produce the units that need to be produced."

One idea being considered to help public housing residents gain some financial independence is to help them incorporate and do work at the projects, such as maintenance. This would improve the housing stock and generate income for residents, Petty said.

"The structures have not been properly maintained, for whatever reason," she said, noting that many were built in the 1940s and 1950s.

Drug use has been a problem at some of the city's housing projects, and the housing department plans to start training managers to deal with this, including the handling of persons who are violent or in danger because of drug use, Petty said.

City Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) yesterday praised the mayor's choice of Petty, who was Jarvis' first pick for director when Clay was chosen in January 1983. Petty was acting director for a brief period when former director Robert Moore left to become a consultant.

"I think her great strengths are that she is organized in her thinking and has a great deal of follow-through. She acts quickly but thoughtfully," Jarvis said.

The housing department has been severely criticized in recent years by federal agencies and the D.C. auditor for inefficiency and mismanagement of its projects. The U.S. attorney's office is continuing an investigation of the Bates Street redevelopment project in Shaw, following a series of articles in The Washington Post documenting widespread waste and alleged misuse of federal funds.

"When I look back on Bates Street, I am still proud of the program," though the project was not monitored as closely as it should have been, said Petty, who joined the housing department in February 1980.

Petty, the city's first female housing director, said she did not have experience in the housing field before coming to the department but had 19 years of management experience. She said she has confidence in the staff and anticipates few changes.

Representatives of groups as diverse as the Apartment and Office Building Association, representing landlords, and the Housing Counseling Service, which deals with housing problems of low-income people, said the job of housing director is one of the toughest in city government and that they did not know why anyone would want it.