The agency created to handle the savings and loan cleanup gave final approval this week to regulations governing the sale of thousands of homes to poor people.

Although the Resolution Trust Corp. (RTC) plans to sell to needy people about 10,000 homes repossessed by failed S&Ls, the agency has come under criticism for moving too slowly to implement the program, which was established by last year's S&L cleanup legislation.

As part of the law, Congress ordered the RTC to give poor people and nonprofit groups a 90-day option to buy low-cost homes before the properties are offered to others.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now has sued the RTC, claiming the agency has been slow in implementing the program. In July, about 70 protesters from the association's branches in New York, Philadelphia and the District demonstrated at RTC headquarters chanting, "We want housing."

The RTC board, headed by William Seidman, was told before it approved the new regulations that about 200 single-family homes have been sold as part of a pilot program and that 2,000 houses have been listed.

The RTC also approved guidelines that the agency will follow in giving away low-valued property.

The rules stipulate that the property be valued at less than $5,000 and that the property be offered as a gift to government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Individuals will not qualify to receive the free properties.

The RTC has identified about 500 properties that would qualify for donations because they are valued at less than $5,000.

RTC officials said they had received a number of requests from cities seeking donated land to use for parks, day-care centers and schools.

Much of this land is undeveloped real estate with the bulk of it located in Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.

National construction contracting activity is expected to total $247 billion this year, down 7 percent from a record high in 1989, according to Dodge-Sweet's Construction Outlook released this week.

Contracting activity has seen its steepest decline in the Northeast, dropping 24 percent in the first half of 1990, according to the report, released by the Construction Information Group of McGraw-Hill Inc.

Activity slowed by 13 percent in the Southeast and by 7 percent in the South Central region but held steady in the West and rose by 5 percent in the North Central region of the country, the report said.

The report estimated that 900,000 single-family homes and 325,000 apartment and condominium units will be started this year, down 11 percent from 1989.

The building market appears to be stabilizing, said George A. Christie, the Construction Information Group's vice president and chief economist.

"The decline of commercial building, which has gone on now for four years, appears to be bottoming out," he said.

"Funding for public-works construction is already locked in for the year, and cutbacks needed to deal with the ballooning federal deficit won't hit until 1991," he said.

"Institutional building remains a source of support, and housing starts, which fell during 1990's opening half, are expected to improve slightly in the months head," Christie said.

Property owners on Maryland's Lower Eastern Shore who want to sell building lots that are part of non-tidal wetlands have found their plans stalled while they wait for approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.

"It's killing us," said Sewell Matthews, a Cambridge real estate agent. "It's wrong. They're taking the land without compensating us."

Matthews is part owner of 38 lots on the edge of the Dorchester County town. The lots also are in limbo while awaiting action by the corps.

Dorchester County Commission President Calvin Travers said the delays in receiving corps approval have caused economic problems for the locality.

"We've got to have some growth to increase the tax base," Travers said. "We hope the federal government will ease up and make some changes."

The problem lies in a change in the 1989 definition of non-tidal wetlands, which vastly increased the acreage of wetlands in Maryland. With the change, the corps was given control of reviewing landowners' plans for making changes to the areas.

As much as half of some Lower Eastern Shore counties, including Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester, may be non-tidal wetlands.

For the past six weeks, the newly formed Cambridge group Fairness to Land Owners Committee has begun to pressure elected officials from the county to the federal level for a change.

"We are not the multibillion-dollar Alaskan oil interest or multimillion-dollar development companies," said Margaret Reigle, founder of the group. "We are individual landowners, and we want our rights."

The federal government may be listening: This past week, the corps proposed to give the state some of its regulatory powers to decide whether some non-tidal wetlands could be developed.

The proposal, which is subject to public comment, would give the state authority over permits for projects that would destroy fewer than 10 acres of wetlands. Small residential and farm projects also would be exempt from the regulations.

IN THE BUSINESS ... Among the nation's 26 largest metropolitan areas, rental vacancy rates were mixed in 1989, the National Apartment Association reported. Fourteen of the 26 areas, most of which were on the East and West coasts, had declines because of overbuilding ... Real estate lending conditions will continue to get worse before they get better, according to a survey of commercial real estate brokerage firms. Seventy percent of 130 members of New America Network of Hightstown, N.J., responded to the survey describing their policies as "considerably tightened" and do not expect conditions to stabilize soon ... Few people are mincing words about the downturn in the real estate industry, and the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks is no exception. The title of its annual conference, planned for November in New Orleans, is "Staying Afloat in a Sinking Market" ... The U.S. agricultural sector is on the mend after six years of recession. The coming decade should bring higher farm income, higher productivity and strengthened land values, real estate consultant Nicholas Buss wrote in the Real Estate Research Corp.'s Real Estate Report. Farmlands, which fell from an average value of $823 an acre in 1982 to $599 an acre in 1987, were up to $693 an acre as of Jan. 1. The increase is making long-term investors take notice, Buss said ... Despite the nationwide housing slump, some mid-size and smaller markets have continued to thrive, Lomas Mortgage USA reported in its publication U.S. Housing Markets. Markets such as Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Aurora-Elgin, Ill.; Boise and many other cities that house universities and state capitals have seen no downturn in home-building activity since mid-1986 when the national trend began ... Montgomery County's Agricultural Preservation Easement Purchase Program received national awards from Renew America, a national conservation organization, and the National Association of Counties. The year-old program has preserved seven farms totaling 1,005 acres though easements purchased by the county for more than $3 million ... Single-family home sales totaled 261 in Howard County in July, down from 263 in July 1989, the Howard County Association of Realtors reported. Condominium sales in the county totaled 56 units in July, up from 38 units in July 1989. Residential sales in Prince George's County totaled 654 in July, down from 847 in July 1989, the Prince George's County Association of Realtors reported. Of those, condominium sales decreased 51 percent from 146 in July 1989 to 71 last month. The average price for all residential sales was $122,900, up 7.1 percent from $114,700 a year ago ... Johns Hopkins University School of Continuing Education in Baltimore plans to offer a non-credit certificate program for real estate professionals ... Long & Foster Commercial Real Estate Services created a new distressed asset division to help lending institutions and developers with properties that fall into the "distressed" category ... Julien J. Studley Inc. began renovations on the Capitol Hill City Post Office, which will be refurbished and expanded to 1.16 million square feet of office, retail, parking and postal space. The General Services Administration plans to use 850,000 square feet of the space to house a new headquarters for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The property, which is located at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Street and owned by the Postal Service, will be referred to as Postal Square ... Ken Thompson Properties is planning to build River Ridge, an adult community for "empty nesters" and people close to retirement on 140 acres in Prince William County ... A group of investors acting through Savage/Fogarty Real Estate, a local investment and development firm, purchased the 10-story headquarters of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The building, at 1300 Connecticut Ave. NW, sold for $33.4 million ... Stephen H. Gruner formed a real estate counseling company in Silver Spring called Stephen Gruner & Associates ... The Charles C. Smith Cos. began construction of the first phase of the residential component of University Center near Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County. The project will include 470 apartments and 156 condominiums ... The Wilkes Co. plans to build a 10-story office building at 730 Fifth St. NW, near Judiciary Square ... Los Angeles-based R&B Enterprises, which manages $3 billion worth of real estate in the Washington area, has changed its name to R&B Realty Group ... The Walton Cos., in a joint venture with Investcorp, began construction of the Herald Square Building at 1250 H St. NW, an 11-story, 188,000-square-foot building.

PERSONNEL FILE ... Richard V. Caruso retired as chairman and chief executive officer of Clark Construction Group's OMNI Construction Inc. Dan T. Montgomery succeeded him ... The Carey Winston Co. promoted Raymond Hite to vice president ... C. Richard Wright was appointed vice president and resident manager of Coldwell Banker Commercial's suburban Maryland office ... Brennan Beer Gorman/Architects named senior associate Mark Boekenheide a partner in its Washington office ... Ackerman & Co., a Gaithersburg development company, promoted John K. Burch Jr. and Daniel C. Cramer to be senior vice presidents ... David M. Koss was appointed director of legislation of the National Housing Conference.