Housing authority orders removal of landscaping added by residents

Only potted plants are allowed to be grown on tenants’ front and back porches.Only potted plants are allowed to be grown on tenants’ front and back porches.

A new policy for public housing residents in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, has left their yards starkly bare in the name of safety.

The South Pittsburg Housing Authority’s new landscaping rule, which went into effect June 1, states that all landscaping must be removed unless planted by the SPHA’s staff.

According to Executive Director Lisa Bradford, it has always been the housing authority’s policy to prohibit landscaping additions such as gardens, but that rule was previously unenforced.

“This new landscaping policy is needed to ensure the safety of the maintenance employees, residents and guests of the housing authority,” she told the Times Free Press. “Each resident that violated the landscaping policy by placing unauthorized alteration on the residential property created greater obstacles and safety issues for maintenance employees.”

Bradford notes that some workers had to stand in the road in order to work around residents’ gardens.

“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 property,” she said.

Some of the residents have complied without much complaint, recognizing the service that the housing authority offers by mowing the lawn for the residents.

“I didn’t care, but I liked having them,” said 85-year-old Sally McMillian, who cut down her roses, which wrapped around her house. “Everybody came by talking about how pretty they were.”

Larry Taylor, 66, ripped up all of his rose bushes and flowers, except for a lone four o’clock flower, which he said he wants to give to someone instead of destroying.

Others have been more distressed by the enforcement of the policy.

“These were my babies,” said one 80-year-old woman, who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of losing her housing.

She told the Times Free Press she had planted and cared for the garden all on her own. Her family enlisted the mayor’s help about the rule.

“I can’t help from thinking about how devastating this is on those who have put years of time, love and expense in their flower gardens,” Mayor Jane Dawkins wrote on Facebook.

In April, the board considered grandfathering in units that had landscaping, but the board feared that it would cause tenants to rush to plant things before the June 1 deadline. Residents are permitted to grow flowers and vegetables in potted plants on their front and back porches under Resolution 937.

“It’s their home,” said Angela Kelso, a family member of one of the tenants. “They’re paying to live here. They already can’t smoke in them, and now they can’t decorate the outside. What? Is it going to be a prison camp pretty soon?”

The board will meet again on June 20 and Bradford said members might discuss the policy again.

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