PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Three times the federal government has seized control of local public housing projects citing mismanagement. A Pennsylvania city has become the fourth.

Federal officials took control of Chester's public housing projects Wednesday, saying the local authority allowed homes to fall into disrepair.

''Hopefully, it's going to mean a dramatic improvement to the conditions the residents face on a day-to-day basis,'' added Michael Smerconish, head of the Mid-Atlantic office of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The 5,592 low-income resident of Chester's five housing developments have been forced to live in unsanitary, poorly maintained and dangerous conditions while the authority's management lost more than $2 million over the past three years, he added.

He said the mismanagement cost the suburban Philadelphia city $3 million this year when authority officials handed in inappropriate forms for grant programs.

The other federal takeovers occurred in East St. Louis, Mo., Bridgeport, Conn., and Passaic, N.J.

HUD will turn over the results of its investigation to the Inspector General's Office.

But, Smerconish said, ''I can't say that there will be indictments.''

He said HUD notified the Delaware County city's mayor, Willie Mae Leake, its mayor-elect, Barbara Bohannan-Sheppard, the authority's commissioners and resident groups of the action Wednesday morning.

The federal government took over all bank accounts and stationed a man at the authority's office to prevent paperwork from being destroyed or stolen, Smerconish said.

A receptionist at the authority late Wednesday afternoon said its executive director, Earline Mann, and all other officers were not available for comment.

Federal officials plan to handle the day-to-day running of the authority until it can be turned over to a private management firm. Smerconish said he hoped to sign a contract with a firm by next week.

Almost $1 million in rent has not been collected by the authority over the past four years, HUD figures show.

Of the authorities 1,700 housing units, 510 stand vacant, even though a waiting list has more than 2,400 families, HUD figures show.

Smerconish said the vacancies were due to an inability of authority workers to repair problems. He estimated that it was taking 315 days for authority workers to fix up vacant units for occupation.

The authority's 92 employees will have to show they are competent to remain on the job.

Smerconish indicated HUD would want new commissioners and a new executive director before the public housing units are turned back over to the city.

Photos at the news conference showed garbage piled in housing development courtyards, windows broken out and boarded over and graffiti-covered walls. Drug-trafficking also is a major problem, Smerconish said.

He said federal officials will meet with Chester police to make sure there are more patrols at the housing units.

The tenants have brought suit against HUD and the CHA because of the deteriorating conditions.

HUD's counsel, John Kennedy, said Wednesday's actions were independent of the lawsuit.

HUD and the tenant groups are to meet before a judge Tuesday about the case.