THANKS TO AN $8.5-million federal grant to the Metropolitan Washinton Council of Government, a little more than a year from now several hundred families without much money may be able to move into new or rehabilitated houses and apartments scattered throughout the region. The money is to be used neighborhoods and showing homeowners of modest means how to make minor repairs to their properties.

The grant to COG is one of 10 awards, totaling a little more than $42 million that the Department of Housing and Urban Development recently made to regional planning groups in a number of regions across the country. As in other areas, COG will determine which proposals from local governments should receive money. By giving those regional groups the awards, HUD hopes to encourage local officials to work together - regardless of boundary lines - to solve some of their common housing problems

Regional cooperation isn't exactly new to officials in this area. For the past few years, COG has had a "fair share" housing plan - an agreement by which each COG member-jurisdiction accepts responsibility for providing a certain amount of governments to give special attention to places that don't usually get a substantial amount of government money for lower-income housing. For example, it just might be possible to increase the total amount of housing for lower-income households if local governments were to buy a number of abondoned, privately owned houses that are located outside of side of poor neighbourhoods, rehabilitate them and then sell or rent them to low - and moderate-income households.

With careful planning, local governments can use the COG award to improve both the quality and quantity of such housing. That is one opportunity that should not be passed up.