Madeline Carol McCullough, who as Madeline Petty was director of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development in the mid-1980s, died of cancer Dec. 3 at Washington Hospital Center. She was 51.

Ms. McCullough was one of seven officials who headed the chronically troubled agency during a single decade. In 1987, as she was leaving the post, federal officials said that under her leadership the much criticized public housing system had finally begun to improve.

They said the number of vacant units had dropped as the city was quicker to ready them and that repair crews had improved their response time to tenants' complaints. But they said the city was still far too slow in keeping up with increasing demand for public housing.

In a separate report at the time, D.C. Auditor Otis H. Troupe cited chronic management failures in the housing agency that had resulted in lengthy delays and dramatic increases in the costs of maintaining public housing.

Ms. McCullough acknowledged the problems and said few were new. She said efforts were underway to improve management at the agency and to increase the public housing stock, then at nearly 12,000 units. She said the agency had installed a computer system to monitor maintenance complaints and had renovated 902 vacant apartments.

Ms. McCullough was a community planning, development and management consultant after resigning from the administration of Mayor Marion Barry. Since 1997, she had been Washington office director of the Enterprise Foundation, which works to increase the housing supply for families and redevelop communities.

Ms. McCullough was a native of San Antonio and a graduate of Texas Southern University. She received a master's degree in public administration from Howard University.

In the 1970s, she did program development and training work in Washington and New Jersey and was academic director in the District of the public affairs center of the University of Southern California. She was also marketing director of the East of the River Health Association in the District.

She joined the Housing and Community Development Department in 1980 and served as chief administrative officer and deputy director before being named to head the operation.

She was later appointed by President Bill Clinton to the board of the National Capital Revitalization Corp. and was its vice chairman. The corporation was set up to create jobs, attract businesses, enhance the tax base and foster economic growth in the city.

She was also a member of the board of the Washington Area Housing Partnership, the Affordable Housing Advocacy Council and Verizon D.C. Customer Service Council. She belonged to Delta Sigma Theta social sorority, the NAACP and the Urban League. She was a trustee of Zion Baptist Church in Washington and vice chair of the church administration board.

Her two marriages to Bruce Anthony Petty ended in divorce.

Survivors include a son, Army Staff Sgt. Bruce Anthony McCullough Petty, and a sister, Bettye Jewel McCullough, both of Washington.