DAGGETT Virginia Coleman, 76, received a note Friday at her home at Barstow-Daggett Airport from her landlord, the San Bernardino County Airports Department.

"Public Notice," it said. "Important Meeting Regarding Your Future Residential Tenancy at Barstow-Daggett Airport."

At the meeting Monday, Coleman and the other residents at the 17 county-owned homes at the airport were all told that they were being evicted.

Coleman, who has lived in her home since 1967 with her husband, Jay, said she thought she would one day be taken out of the house in a box.

Now "I'm going to be taking boxes out of here," Coleman said.

The homes, built in the 1940s by McDonnell Douglas and then used as officer's quarters for the airport's military presence, were later transferred to county ownership. The county offered them for rent and continued to maintain the properties ever since.

But now, with the county facing a $100 million structural deficit over the next five years, officials are acting quickly to close down the properties.

The problem, County Public Information Officer David Wert said, was that the county spends almost five times as much to maintain the properties as it receives in rent.

It costs the county $225,000 per year to provide potable water to the homes, Wert said. The properties have an on-site water plant with four wells, but the county must inspect and maintain the plant in order to comply with state and local regulations.

The county also spends $22,000 per year on insurance and about $120,000 each year in staff time providing landlord and administrative services to the properties. It costs an additional $53,000 each year for an on-site sewage plant to serve the homes. The properties generate $92,000 in rent each year for the county, Wert said.

"The county isn't in the subsidized housing business," Wert said.

Wert said rents would have to be $2,400 a month for the county to break even far above market value of the properties, which rent for about $450 each month.

Wert said it was only recently that the Airports Department identified the homes as a wasteful expense for the county.

For residents like the Coleman family, the homes represent a lifetime of memories.

For Coleman's adult grandson, Scott, who lives down the street with his mother, the home is where he remembers spending every holiday. It is also where his mother grew up.

"Every Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter has been in this living room," Scott Coleman said.

Wert said the county's human services agencies would work with residents to help them find new places to live, and the Department of Aging and Adult Services would work with affected seniors. Residents will have 60 days to move out and will receive $500 to cover their moving expenses.

Alan Hamm, manager of Daggett Aviation, which contracts with the U.S. Army to provide services at the airport, said the problems with the water system could have been avoided. The sudden move to evict residents was a "just a bomb," Hamm said as he radioed directions to an approaching small plane and a pair of Apache helicopters buzzed overhead.

"That was a rude awakening."

Hamm, who has worked at the airport for 30 years, said the buildings once provided key housing to defense contractors who outfitted World War II-era warplanes like the A-20 Havoc, which were manufactured in Santa Monica and Long Beach, brought to the Barstow-Daggett Airport and then flown to Alaska to be given to the Russians, who used them to fight Nazi Germany.

More recently, the county has constructed new lighting for a taxiway, extended another taxiway and launched a $2.44 million project to remodel the runways' electrical system as part of a modernization project.

Coleman said she liked living at the airport because it was far enough from major towns that she did not have to worry about people breaking into her home. The small, isolated nature of the neighborhood meant that everybody knew each other, she said.

Scott Coleman said he was thinking about holding a block party with his neighbors before they all would have to go their separate ways.

"I don't think there's any other place like this, because it's a big family," Virginia Coleman said.

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(760) 256-4126 or spearson@desertdispatch.com