THE CONTINUING squeeze on federal funds for conventional low-income housing programs puts a premium on finding new and imaginative ways to help. The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) is involved in two such programs that could help ease some housing problems in the District. The first, called HomeSight, is designed to assist moderate-income residents buy their own houses. The second could produce decent, low-cost apartments for some of the city's poorer families.

HomeSight was unveiled by Mayor Marion Barry last April. American Security Bank and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national nonprofit lending institution, are among those producing funds to acquire and renovate vacant houses. Fannie Mae is purchasing up to $15 million in low-cost mortgages for about 300 home buyers, and residents can apply for the mortgages through the city's Home Purchase Assistance Program. The mayor says HomeSight can assist "hard-working people who could not otherwise afford a house" -- an admirable goal. Annual income limits for the program range from $23,352 for a single person to $41,700 for families with eight or more members.

Some of the city's poorest families can be helped by a new federal tax incentive that came out of last year's revision of the federal tax code. Firms can receive credits on their federal taxes for every dollar they invest to help produce low-income housing, and they can earn a nice return on their investment. In New York City, Fannie Mae's investment of $28 million will allow nonprofit groups to acquire, renovate and run 1,000 apartments for low-income tenants. The rents must be affordable to families earning no more that 60 percent of a region's median income.

Nationally, corporations can claim up to $9 billion in tax credits over a three-year period while actually investing less than that amount. The District's share of the tax-break formula means that one or more firms could invest up to $8 million a year here to renovate apartments for the poor. They would receive a tax credit for that amount and earn a good return on their investment. As Alphonso Jackson, the city's public housing director, says, the D.C. government can play an important role by urging firms to use the tax break and help produce the decent affordable housing that is so badly needed her