THE DISTRICT is in danger of having such high standards for private adult residential-care homes that it will force many such homes - and valuable ones - to close down. Foster homes, halfway houses, nursing homes, homes for the elderly and mental-health-care facilities are among the institutions currently threatened by the Community Residence Facilities Licensure Act of 1977, a stringent new city law set to go into effect Oct. 1. The law imposes new and tougher requirements on those seeking a license to operate a private-care home. These requirements include additional training for home operators, increased staff for some facilities, extensive record-keeping and numerous modifications of the homes themselves, such as the addition of smoke detectors, dishwaters, laundry facilities and so forth.

While all of these improvements are desirable and some are essential, the feact is that they are beyond the reach of many adult-care homes. Fendall House, the city's largest adult foster-care home, has announced that it will be shutting down at the end of the year. Others are planning to follow suit because they just don't have the money to do the job. At the moment, the homes receive $180 per month for each resident - $177.80 from the federal government and $2.20 from the city - though the home operators contend that the actual cost is closer to $300. They also point out that if residents had to remain in an instituation such as St. Elizabeths, the city would pay about $3,000 per person per month. In addition, many of the home operators feel that they cannot make improvements in time to meet the deadline of the law.

Something has to be done to save the homes without junking the new standards. One possibility is that the city council, upon its return, could develop emergency legislation to phase in the required improvements over time. They could require some immediate improvements - for instance, the installation of smoke detectors and security systems - while allowing time to meet other requirements, such as staff increases. That would not, of course, be enough. Action also needs to be taken to get more money to the homes. These funds should include both a one-time increase for substantial improvements and an increase in the amount authorized per resident. Resolving this dilemma will require the combined efforts of the mayor, the city council, the Department of Human Resources and the home operators themselves. If it is not handled quickly and efficiently, Washington may end up with the most impressive standards for adult home care in the country - and no homes.