Paul J. Manafort, a prominent Republican political consultant and campaign adviser to Presidents Bush and Reagan, told a congressional committee yesterday that he engaged in "influence-peddling" three years ago when he used his Washington contacts to obtain a potentially lucrative federal housing contract. "The technical term for what we do -- and law firms, associations and professional groups do -- is lobby," said Manafort, a partner in the firm Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly. "For the purposes of today, I will stipulate that, in a narrow sense, some people may term it influence-peddling." The lobbying firm was paid $326,000 for its work on behalf of the project in rural Upper Deerfield Township, N.J. And Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee on housing, estimated that federal subsidies, tax breaks and rehabilitation costs on the development could ultimately cost the federal government $47 million. Manafort's role in obtaining the federal funds -- similar to that of other prominent Republican officials involved in the Department of Housing and Urban Development's moderate rehabilitation program -- was criticized yesterday as benefiting a project that was ill-planned, expensive and unneeded. In winning the HUD award for Countryside Village project, 326 units of one-story cinderblock apartment buildings that were built to house former Japanese-American internees in 1944, Manafort employed a network of well-connected housing and political officials in Washington, New Jersey and Connecticut. Manafort told the subcommittee that he and his development partners arranged to purchase the project and persuade the state housing agency to apply for funding under the moderate rehabilitation program. He employed his lobbying firm to "coordinate" the project in Washington, he said. Black, Manafort was a leading Republican consulting firm throughout the Reagan years. Manafort served as political director of last year's Republican National Convention. Charles Black, one of the firm's partners, managed the 1988 presidential campaign of HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, who was then a member of the House. And Lee Atwater was associated with the firm before joining the Bush campaign and later becoming chairman of the Republican National Committee. Lantos used Manafort's statement that his firm spent "200 to 300 hours" working on the New Jersey project to estimate that it was paid $1,000 an hour. Local officials testifying yesterday denounced the Upper Deerfield project as a waste of money and said that the need for housing for low-income people could have been better met in other ways. Mayor Bruce Peterson of Upper Deerfield Township said that by the time town officials were aware that more than 300 units of low-income housing had been awarded to their farming community of 7,000, it was a "fait accompli." "There still exist . . .serious questions on the part of local officials about the wisdom of this project and its effect on many long-time residents of our community, many of whom are elderly," he said. Manafort testified that he was introduced to the project and to the moderate rehabilitation program by Victor Cruz, a former high-ranking Connecticut housing official. Manfort and Cruz subsequently formed a partnership with another investor to purchase the development, now named Countryside Village, for $4.4 million in 1987. In late 1986, Gregory C. Stevens, a former chief of staff to New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean (R), had contacted the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs on Manafort's behalf to urge the state to apply for the funding. By April 1987, Manafort's group had purchased the project -- two weeks before state officials learned they had been awarded the HUD money. Manafort said that he "probably" heard of the HUD selection before state officials did, a reversal of a process that is set up to allow local public housing authorities to award the federal funds competitively. "This selection process had all the competitiveness and suspense of professional wrestling," Lantos said. Once the application was filed, a Manafort aide contacted Deborah Gore Dean, executive assistant to then HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr. Manafort said Dean "led us to believe" that his proposal had a good chance of getting the HUD funding. Manafort said he had previously had only a "political relationship" with Dean and had done no business with her. But, he said, "we certainly felt if she was supportive of the project it would be very good for us." Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) waved the advertisement published in connection with the project and said: "You could have cut out all this language and written one sentence: The fix is in."