NEW ORLEANS - Demolition of three public housing complexes, scheduled to start this weekend, was halted yesterday amid complaints about the scarcity of housing for the poor after Hurricane Katrina.

The Housing Authority of New Orleans, which is run by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, agreed to postpone the start of demolition pending a hearing Thursday before City Council. Opponents of the demolition plan had filed a lawsuit contending that the city charter required council's consent.

Work crews had been expected to start demolition today under the housing authority's plan to replace about 4,500 federally administered public housing units with mixed-income, mixed-use development. Demolition at a fourth complex, B.W. Cooper, can continue because the City Council approved demolishing 14 buildings there four years ago, lawyers said.

Rachel Wisdom, a lawyer for the housing authority, said that because the city ordinance was vague, the agency agreed that the City Council should take up the matter before any demolition.

The council backs redevelopment, but with caveats. On Nov. 1, the City Council passed a resolution to support a congressional bill that calls for phased redevelopment and one-for-one replacement of public housing units. By comparison, the HUD plan envisioned quicker redevelopment and a reduction in the number of public housing units.

The proposal has sparked lawsuits and street demonstrations in a city where housing for the poor has been scarce and homelessness has soared since Hurricane Katrina. Rental prices have risen sharply.

Advocates for public housing residents say the redevelopment plan won't create enough housing to allow thousands of exiled residents to return. HUD says about 3,000 families who once lived in New Orleans public housing remain scattered, and social workers say the number of homeless in the area has doubled to about 12,000.