A new association set up to assist owners of historic houses has opened its office in Washington - in a historic house.

The Historic House Association of America has moved into the refurbished attic of Decatur House on Lafyette Square, headquarters of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. It is actively recruiting members according to its executive director-James C. Massey, a former National Trust operations director.

He said the association will assist the grass-roots, private efforts of the thousands people who do the actual work of preserving historic buildings.

"In the past 10 years, historic preservation has become more and more concerned with the "software" issues-neighbourhood conservation, urban revitalization and open space conservation," he said.

"These are certainly important issues. But the heart of preservation is buildings and people. These building and people. These building and people have real problems-property taxes, maintenance and repairs, building and zoning codes, insurance coverage."

Massey said the organization will "represent and service their special needs and organize programs to make it easier for them to preserve their historic properties."

Membership in the association is open to individuals and organizations interested in preserving historic properties.

"It is definitely not an organization of the very wealthy, for the preservation of the houses of the rich," Massey said. "There are over 25,000 historic houses in this country. We want to help the owners of everyone of them."

The organization is planning a technical assistance program, a newsletter with information on funding sources, and other programs. Dues are $25 for individual owners of private properties. Owners of houses open to the public pay $50.

Massey, who lives in an old house in Alexandria, is an architectural historican. He was previously in charge of the operations of the 16 properties owned by the National Trust.

The chairman of the board of directors of the new organization is William A. V. Cecil, proprietor of Biltmore House, the Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, N.C.