A 43 percent surge in the number of building permits issued for construction of multifamily housing units last year accounted for a 5 percent overall increase in the number of residential building permits issued in the Washington metropolitan area in 1987, according to Department of Commerce figures. The large increase in multifamily permits compensated for a 7 percent drop in single-family permits.

In all, 43,372 residential permits were issued last year in the area. Single-family permits totaled 29,441 and multifamily units totaled 13,931.

"A relatively strong rental housing market with a vacancy rate of under 3 percent has spurred apartment development activity in the Washington area, said Robert Sheehan, vice president and economist for Regias J. Sheehan & Associates, which compiled the report. "The decline in single-family activity reflects high land and home prices in the area."

The strength in the local housing market was centered in the Northern Virginia suburbs, where permits totaled 24,898, up 10 percent over 1986 levels, including an 8 percent rise in single-family permits and a 64 percent increase in multifamily permits. Fairfax County led the area with 13,247 permits issued for new housing units, nearly one-third of the metro area total.

The number of permits issued in the District was considerably smaller, only 1,198, but up 87 percent over 1986 levels. The number of permits in the Maryland suburbs declined by 5 percent to 17,276 units.

"The Washington metro area is now the third-largest residential construction market in the United States," Sheehan said. "The Los Angeles-Long Beach market issued permits for 55,729 units in 1987 and 44,432 units were permitted in the Atlanta area."

Included in the study were figures from Calvert, Charles, Frederick, Montgomery, Prince George's, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Stafford and Prince William counties, as well as the cities of Frederick, Gaithersburg, Rockville, Laurel, Alexandria, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced that $60 million for transitional housing for the homeless, and $15 million for permanent housing for the handicapped homeless, is now available to private nonprofit groups and state and local governments.

Of the $60 million in the transitional housing component of the program, $30.8 million is for transitional housing projects that serve homeless individuals discharged from institutions and other homeless people with mental disabilities, $20 million will be available for transitional housing projects serving homeless families with children, and $9.2 million will be available for the homeless in general.

The $15 million for permanent housing for the handicapped homeless is in addition to $15 million announced last fall.

Groups interested in applying for the funds for the homeless should contact HUD at (202) 755-1520.

IN THE BUSINESS ... Chicago Title Insurance Co. reports that condominium units accounted for about 13 percent of all home sales in 1987, compared with 15 percent in 1986, according to its annual survey of recent home buyers. In 1987, 12 percent of first-time buyers purchased condominiums, down from 17 percent in 1986 ... The Mortgage Bankers Association of America reaffirmed its opposition to lenders paying fees for the referral of borrowers and urged HUD to publish undated regulations regarding this practice. The MBA's legislative committee also agreed to urge Congress to consider allowing first-time home buyers to withdraw money from Individual Retirement Accounts without tax penalities if the money is used for a down payment ... Gilday Design & Remodeling of Silver Spring has been selected as contractor of the year by the Metropolitan Washington Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry ... The Oliver Carr Co. has started construction of the third phase of King Street Station, an 800,000-square-foot office and hotel development across the street from the Alexandria's King Street Metro subway station. The third phase, a seven-story office building, will be completed by May 1989. The company said that the second phase of the construction, which is nearly complete, is 40 percent leased ... Potomac Investment Associates reported that in the first year at Avenel, a luxury residential community under construction in Montgomery County, home sales exceeded $75 million.

PERSONNEL FILE ... Kenneth A. Fulmer has been named executive director of the Northern Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks, not the national group, as reported in the Feb. 6 Real Estate section ... CRI Inc., a Bethesda-based worldwide financial services and investment company, has named Yvonne S. Distenfeld senior vice president, general counsel ... The Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. has named Richard M. Bottomley vice president of loan administration, Daniel J. Driscoll vice president of corporate communications and Judith A. Kennedy vice president of government affairs ... Bert S. Calvert has been named vice president of community association management for the Charles E. Smith Cos. ... William J. Wogatske has been named vice president of construction for NVProperties ... Doug Ellington has been named vice president and general manager of Kenneth H. Michael Insurance Co. ... Carey Winston Co. named Perry Korotky, Phillip Hummelt and Stephen Rozga vice presidents in the commercial finance department.