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For Navy Families, It's a Hardship Post

August 10, 1989|WILLIAM OVEREND | Times Staff Writer

Thomas R. McClelland has a wife and three children, but he cannot afford to live with them.

McClelland, a Navy lithographer stationed at the Pacific Missile Test Center at Point Mugu, visits them in San Diego on weekends.

"I've been living in the barracks here since I was transferred from San Diego in November," McClelland said. "I travel back to San Diego on Friday night and get up Monday at 3 a.m. so I can be back here.

"It's rough on me, no doubt about it," McClelland said. "It's rough on my car too."

Seaman Apprentice Joy Anita Reid, 21, joined the Navy a year ago and lives with her 3-month-old baby in a one-bedroom apartment in Port Hueneme. Reid's sister, who takes care of the baby during the day, shares the apartment.

Uses Welfare Program

Reid's take-home pay is about $960 a month. Her rent is $585 monthly. She has applied to a state welfare program for free cheese and milk and is thinking about signing up for food stamps.

"The cost of living is so high here," she sighed. "But it's easier for me than some other people because I'm a Christian. God takes care of me."

McClelland and Reid are two of thousands of military personnel at Point Mugu and the Naval Construction Battalion Center at Port Hueneme trying to adjust to the harsh realities of the Ventura County housing market.

While Navy officials at the two installations are concerned about the recent loss of top civilian scientists and engineers who quit to buy houses elsewhere, the Navy also faces increasing problems in finding decent rental housing for enlisted personnel.

Of the 8,000 military personnel at the two Navy installations, about 5,500 live off-base. The Navy warns personnel that it may be best to leave their families behind when moving to Ventura County until housing can be secured, but most bring their wives and children and hope for the best.

The typical tour of duty at both Point Mugu and Port Hueneme is three years, and it can take up to two years for a family to get the limited military housing available.

For the most part, they are on their own when it comes to finding an apartment in the surrounding communities of Port Hueneme, Oxnard and Camarillo.

Like many Navy personnel, Colleen Griffith, an aviation maintenance administrator, had to get financial help from her parents to cover the rent and security deposit on her apartment when she was transferred to Point Mugu 18 months ago from San Diego.

Griffith, 32, a single parent with a 4 1/2-year-old son, had been paying $525 for a two-bedroom apartment in San Diego. After her transfer she moved first into a one-bedroom apartment in Oxnard for $600 a month and now pays $650 monthly toward the rent of a Port Hueneme townhouse that she shares with one of Point Mugu's civilian employees.

"I was on a waiting list for base housing for 14 months and then decided to forget it," said Griffith, who has been in the Navy nine years. "The rents are higher here than almost any place in the country, but the toughest part is getting the money together to move in. Landlords want about $2,000 for most places.

"I know people who commute very long distances because of the housing here," Griffith added. "My hope is that I'll be going back to San Diego after my tour here. Housing is one of the reasons."

Borrowed Money

Many turn to Navy Relief for help in raising the money necessary to move into off-base housing, among them John Sawyers, 26, a photographer's mate who borrowed $550 to move into a two-bedroom Port Hueneme apartment with his wife and two children when he arrived at Point Mugu two years ago.

"That was a lot of money for me," Sawyers said. "But we were lucky. We found an ex-Navy guy who gave us a break on the rent. Two-bedrooms usually go for a lot more."

Sawyers waited almost two years before his name came up on a list for a three-bedroom house at the missile center itself, and he considers himself fortunate to have a back yard and adequate space for his family.

"It's helped out a lot," he said. "But most of the people here never make it into the base housing."

In addition to high rents, Navy families often wind up in substandard housing because of the general shortage of apartments in towns surrounding the bases.

Patricia Mathews, another Navy photographer, was living with her two sons in a two-bedroom south Oxnard apartment before recently getting for one of the 315 Navy-owned townhouses in Camarillo.

"It wasn't a real good area at all," she said. "The apartment wasn't very plush either. There were no drawers for silverware in the kitchen."

According to Navy officials, the housing situation has dramatically worsened in the last few years. Senior Navy personnel at Point Mugu recall when there was relatively little difficulty finding good housing in the area.

Bought Condo

"I was actually able to buy a condo in north Oxnard when I moved here five years ago," said Aviation Machinist Mate John Wallis, 42. "I paid $89,400. The only reason I did it was I was able to go VA, with no down payment."

Wallis, who will retire from the Navy next year, recently moved into the bachelor's quarters at Point Mugu, sending his wife and two children to Waynesville, Mo., to wait for him.

"I was able to sell the condo here for $190,000 and I found a place back there on 10 acres that was going for $95,000," he explained. "I could have never found something like that here, and it was too good a deal to pass up."

With the separation from his family, the next year will be a long one, Wallis said. But he added that he considers himself lucky in comparison to younger enlisted personnel entering the local housing market too late to qualify as a home buyer.

"I feel sorry for them," Wallis said. "I couldn't afford to have bought my condo if I'd been transferred here today. It's hard to find anything affordable. These young kids put half their pay and more into an apartment, and they don't have much left to live on.

"It doesn't make for an easy life," he said.

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