For Harry T. Luthy these are difficult times.

The Arlington man, whose wife died of cancer last week at the age of 81, must move out of his apartment by the end of the month.

There's space for him in an Arlington complex for elderly but he objects to its regimented life style and its no-pet policy, leaving him at a loss over what to do with his dog Jenie.

"I'm going to have a hard time getting into a place with her," he said. "I guess I'm going to end up putting her to sleep. I just wish I could find a home for her."

Luthy, 77, is one of the few tenants left in the 597-unit southern part of the sprawling Lee Gardens apartment complex. He and 21 families in the last few occupied units must make way by Jan. 31 for extensive renovations that during the last year have displaced hundreds of residents, many of them low-income Hispanics.

Only Luthy and one other family are without new housing, according to an official with the Artery Organization of Bethesda, which owns the property and has renamed it Sheffield Court. The remaining families' departure will conclude a difficult chapter in Arlington's housing history.

When Artery bought the aging 961-unit complex on Rte. 50 in late 1986, county officials were concerned because the company's planned renovations would displace all the estimated 3,000 tenants, who were attracted to the complex for its relatively low rents.

After nearly a year of negotiations, county officials engineered a deal in which Artery sold the northern section's 364 units to the nonprofit Arlington Housing Corp., which will renovate the apartments and use federal subsidies to reserve 200 of the units for low-income tenants.

Though they will also have to move during the renovation, all but 19 of the families living on the north side will be able to move back into the subsidized units by summer of 1989.

For many advocates of affordable housing, Lee Gardens became a symbol of Northern Virginia's housing crisis, but Artery officials say the renovation was necessary and that disruption of family lives was kept to a minimum.

Lee Gardens embodied national concerns over homelessness, affordable housing and immigration reform, said Daniel R. Mackesey, an Artery vice president.

"Unfortunately what was lost in all the focus on these issues was that the units at Lee Gardens were unsafe and needed to rehabilitated and that there was alternative affordable housing in the vicinity," Mackesey said.

Artery helped relocate tenants who had lived in 464 units, and a majority found new homes in Northern Virginia, Mackesey said. The firm also provided up to $1,000 per apartment in relocation benefits.

"To our knowledge no tenant left Lee Gardens without affordable housing," he said. "Of course they're going to pay somewhat higher rents. That doesn't mean it's not affordable."

County officials acknowledge that the complex needed renovation but say the moving process was a wrenching one, particularly for large families and the elderly.

"Of course these people are all living somewhere," said Albert C. Eisenberg, a member of the Arlington County Board. But "few bettered their situation. Many wound up worse."

Many former Lee Gardens tenants are paying higher rents and some families are surreptitiously doubling up to cut costs, Eisenberg said. "I disagree with anyone who says we don't have a housing crisis in Arlington and across the region in Northern Virginia.

The sale of the north part of the complex that will save 200 units for poor tenants represents "an extraordinary achievement. But what we lost was also extraordinary," said Eisenberg.

In the meantime some tenants still in the complex say they have been without heat and hot water for days. One family said they had been using a hotplate for heat.

Artery spokesman Mackesey said the units have deteriorated so badly that boilers are not working and the electrical system cannot supply power to portable heaters. The firm will pay for tenants to move to a hotel until the end of the month, he said.