Citicorp of New York, which is seeking a license to begin banking operations in the District, awarded a $30,000 grant yesterday to a community-based group to renovate low-income apartments for the elderly in the Adams-Morgan area.

Margaret Alton, chairman of Citibank-Maryland, a Citicorp subsidiary, presented a check to Sarah's Circle, a nonprofit group that has teamed up with Jubilee Housing Inc., another nonprofit group, to develop and manage the housing effort.

"We believe that the health of the community affects the health of our business," Alton said at a press conference outside the apartment building at 2551 17th St. NW. "We believe it is simply good business to be a good neighbor."

Citicorp, which has loaned millions of dollars for major construction projects in downtown Washington, waged a well-financed public relations campaign this year to improve its image while seeking favorable D.C. banking legislation. The campaign included making gifts and grants to local groups and being host to well-publicized events.

Yesterday's grant to Sarah's Circle will be used to rehabilitate four vacant apartments for the elderly.

Before the D.C. City Council's vote on interstate banking legislation in September, Citicorp spent $40,000 to put on an elaborate gala to mark the opening of a Chinese trade show at the Washington Convention Center. In October, Citicorp joined with the Business Exchange Network to sponsor a reception for outstanding young black professionals in the Washington area.

Janet Thompson, a Citicorp vice president, said Citicorp has provided $247,000 in 1985 to District-based organizations. Most of that money has gone to well-established institutions such as colleges and research groups, she said.

Citicorp, the nation's largest bank holding company, lobbied against the regional interstate banking legislation approved by the council because it did not include a "trigger" clause that would have allowed any bank in the country to gain automatically the right to offer full banking services in the District in two years, and a provision that would have allowed some banks to come in earlier if they made major financial commitments to the District.

Council members Frank Smith (D-Ward 1) and Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), who attended yesterday's press conference, noted that the council is drafting a new bill that will address the question of whether Citicorp and other large banks will be allowed to accept deposits here -- the only financial activity prohibited for such banks.

Officials for Sarah's Circle said they have planned about $750,000 worth of improvements to the 32-unit Adams-Morgan building, which now has about 75 residents. Sarah's Circle has applied for federal funding.

James W. Rouse, a prominent developer who is chairman of the Enterprise Foundation and a member of the Jubilee Housing board of directors, said Citicorp's grant will serve as a trigger to get others to contribute to the project.