THE SEVEN-YEAR PROGRAM to rehabilitate single-family homes in the District has an admirable goal. Recognizing that poor homeowners and landlords find it difficult to maintain their properties, it offers low-interest rehabilitation loans with federal funds. The District received $3 million in federal funds last year.

So what has the city done with all that money? Practically nothing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city concluded a mere 52 remodeling loan transactions last year. The average of only four transactions per staff member gives new meaning to the notion of lethargy. According to HUD, staff members in Baltimore conclude an average of 38 transactions a year. In Rochester each staffer clears 48 loan transactions a year, and in Pittsburgh workers average 74 transactions.

HUD guidelines say only 15 cents of each federal dollar should go to administrative costs. The District spends more than half of every dollar -- 51 cents. HUD says the district spent $11,300 to process each loan, loans that themselves averaged only $19,936. HUD says that applications and work for loans of $12,000 or more should be processed and completed in six months. The city took up to two years to accomplish this in some cases.

Furthermore, there are widespread complaints from residents about the quality of the work that is done by the contractors listed by the city. The city's response? "There is a consensus in the community of a feeling that if the government puts money into it, the government should be responsible for it. We are trying to tell people this is not the case,"says Landen McCall, chief of the rehab program.

A 1980 HUD study of this program cited a backlog of 938 applicants and problems with staff training, record keeping and the quality of rehabilitation and of inspections of that work. HUD then called a two-year moratorium on new loan applications. HUD is now considering steps that may include another moratorium.

the principal "perpetrators" of this are the people on the payroll of the city's slow-moving and ineffectual housing bureaucracy. The principal victims are the poor, who deserve better. The city's housing programs were already notorious. The altest revelations add to the shame.