A sturdy of low-income people's attitudes toward public housing projects is causing some discomfort at the Department of Housing and Urban Development - the agency that commissioned it - because some of the findings contradict current policy as well as beliefs long held by housing experts.

The study concluded that low-and moderate-income residents in HUD-assisted housing are happiest living with neighbours of similar background. It also found that people living in high-rise apartments are actually happier with their accomodations than those in low-rise buildings and that two-thirds of those living in public housing were satisfied with it.

The original research was conducted by the University of Illinois Housing Research and Development Programme on a grant from the Ford Fountation. HUD funded an additional study by the university two years ago.

The result was a recommendation to HUD that socio-economic mixing be avoided within projects, a concept that is contrary to current federal policy. HUD also favored housing allowances and other direct subsidies over housing projects in recent years.

The researchers said planner should be less concerned about high density and more concerned about spaciousness and privacy for public housing tenants. Amenities such as recreation areas and good landscaping also were found to be important for the residents, even though some HUD officials have felt the agency was spending too much for amenities for subsidized housing.

It is clear that HUD is uneasy with the University of Illinois study. In addition to the customary disclaimer that the views do not represent those of the U.S. government, the written report has a long forward - filled with caveats - by Donna E. Shalala, assistant secretary for policy development and research.

She warns in the forward that the report was "not intended to be definitive." She says "additional corroboration is needed before broad conclusions can be drawn" and adds that the "limited sample, not common to all assisted housing, should be subjected to more extensive analysis."

Co-author Guido Francescato, now at the University of Maryland, rejects Shalala's criticism of the report's scope.

"It was the largest study on this subject ever made in the U.S.," covering 2,000 people in 37 projects in 10 states, he said. Francescato described the report as favorable on the whole.

The authors said they decided to study the attitudes of public housing residents because their opinions about housing generally have been ignored. Ignoring these attitudes has resulted in "a number of undesirable social and operational consequences," the authors contended.

On the controversial socio-economic question, the report concluded that "mixing households having widely different moral beliefs, lifestyles and education should be avoided within a single development."

Tenants were "clearly more satisfied both with neighbors and with place of residence the more they perceived their neighbors to be similar to themselves, friendly and trustworthy, doing their part in unkeep in cleaning, and generally being well-behaved," the study noted.

The average annual household income for the public housing families studied (between 1972 and 1977) was approximately $3,600.