Depletion of apartments available to potential renters through condominium conversion represents only about 9 percent of the units converted, or nine-tenths of 11 percent of all units.

So said W. Bruce Steele, chief of housing programs of the Department of Human Resousrces of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, in a speech delivered recently to the Northern Virginia Apartment Association. He said approximately 60 percent of those persons who buy condominiums are apartment renters before and that 31 percent of the condos sold are returned to the rental market.

The remaining 9 percent are bought by potential renters -- people who can't afford single-family home ownership or persons involed in broken marriages with spouses leaving ownership for apartment ownership; senior citizens and retirees who are tired of or can't afford to maintain a house; and young professionals, all of whom would in all probability enter the apartment rental market if apartment ownership was not available, according to Steele.

Thus, he explained, the true effect of conversions -- which so far number only 10 percent of total existing rental units -- is that the best and most affluent tenants are being skimmed from the rental market into the owner market.

According to statistics, Steele said, it would seem that the solution to the shortage of rental units would be not to stop conversions but to develop programs which would make it possible to build more rental units.

The NVAA, a nonprofit group open to apartment owners, potential owners and apartment suppliers, is located at 1075 South Jefferson St., in Arlington.