Public Housing Residents Told To Tear Up Their Gardens

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Above CC BY 2.0 Matt Herzberger — Only potted plants are allowed on front and back porches, according to the Housing Authority.

Beauty and practicality don’t matter to the South Pittsburg Housing Authority, which recently informed all residents that gardens have to go.

Residents of public housing units in South Pittsburg, TN are angry. The executive director of the South Pittsburg Housing Authority, Lisa Bradford, recently announced that residents can no longer have gardens in their yards, despite the fact that the residents pay for plants themselves and some have tended their beautiful gardens for many years.

Last week the new Resolution 937 took effect:

“The South Pittsburg Housing Authority, beginning on June 1, 2016 will impose a new Landscaping Policy for all residents of the South Pittsburg Housing Authority. The new landscaping policy states that ALL landscaping, including gardening, is to be removed from the housing authority property, unless it is planted by the South Pittsburg Housing Authority staff. This landscaping includes all plants, trees, flowers, shrubbery, and/or gardening that is located in the yards or any/all unites. All tenants will be allowed to have potted plants, including vegetables, so long as they are potted and located on the front or back porch of the units.” (via screen capture)

Bradford claims that the resolution is not new, but that the previous administration had failed to enforce the policy. The Times Free Press quotes Bradford’s written statement, which unsurprisingly uses ‘safety’ as its questionable justification for pushing through such a backward policy:

“This new landscaping policy is needed to ensure the safety of the maintenance employees, residents and guests of the housing authority. Each resident that violated the landscaping policy by placing unauthorized alteration on the residential property created greater obstacles and safety issues for maintenance employees. The presence of additional obstacles created an environment where the maintenance employee has to spend more time performing landscaping maintenance rather than other maintenance on the properties.”

It is unclear how creating gardens that take up part of the yard space, thereby lessening the total amount of square footage that an employee has to maintain, would createmore work for the employee, and jeopardize the health of residents.

To deprive public housing residents of their gardens is cruel and illogical punishment.

Many of the residents are dependent on food assistance programs, which means that encouraging them to grow their own food would make them more independent and food-secure, while saving the government money. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) even includes “seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat” on its list of food items that can be purchased using SNAP benefits.

Tending flowers is beneficial, too; it is food for mind and soul. It reduces stress and anxiety, lessens the symptoms of ADHD, and boosts mental performance. It gives the residents something to work on and to feel proud of. It also provides a great way to get low-impact exercise and fresh air.

One resident is an 80-year-old woman who used to tend roses and daffodils that extended from her porch all the way to the curb. The Times Free Press reports that she had been sick and stressed ever since receiving the news that her gardens had to be uprooted:

“These were my babies,” said the woman referring to her flowers. She doesn’t want to be identified for fear of jeopardizing her housing. The woman said she planted and cared for the garden herself and with her own money. When the garden is in full bloom, it looks good enough to be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, said another public housing resident.

Not least of all, gardening turns an ugly building into something attractive and makes public housing less visibly condemning of the resident’s need for assistance. It’s good for the earth, for the air, for the pollinator populations of birds, bees, and butterflies that live in the neighborhood. A garden can absorb storm water and mitigate urban heat island effects.

Even Mayor Jane Dawkins thinks the policy is ridiculous and unnecessary. She wrote on Facebook that it’s unfair for residents not to be allowed to advocate for themselves at a public meeting.

“I actually found out the employees had already begun the process today and many of the residents have removed everything already. Some mentioned they were afraid they would lose their units if they didn’t comply. This is not acceptable.”