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Tenants In Subsidized Housing Complex Stand To Lose Their Gardens

After a summer of record heat and ongoing drought, water conservation is a big concern. Now, tenants of a low-income rental apartment complex in Talent say a management plan to reduce water consumption is going too far by removing lawns, shrubs – and their personal gardens. JPR’s Liam Moriarty checked it out.

When I went to Patio Village, I found a leafy complex of one-story apartments clustered amid trees, grass and flowers right in downtown Talent. Many residents have planted small gardens outside their doors or along their walls, some of them just a few square feet in size.

Dale Herring is a disabled former construction worker who’s lived at Patio Village for about eight years. The Atlanta native can’t get around very well anymore, and he’s created a pleasant little spot off his patio with blueberry bushes and flowers enclosed by a small fence for his tiny dog.

Dale Herring: “It’s homey. It’s where I live and I like it.”

Herring walks me around to the front side of his apartment to where he’s been nurturing an organic beefsteak tomato plant.

Dale Herring: “What I was hoping for was to get a huge, one of them to come out really big so I could cut about an inch-thick slab and make me a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, a little salt and pepper, y’know? That’s just grubbin’ where I come from. And there it is. In all its radiant beauty.”

It’s a big, bushy plant, with lots of yellow blossoms and about a dozen green tomatoes that promise to become the bright red giants Herring dreams of. But if the Jackson County Housing Authority goes ahead as planned, Herring fears his plant – and the rest of his garden -- will soon be ripped out.

Patio Village residents say they were summoned to a meeting recently and told that all their gardens will be removed, along with grass and bushes, to be replaced with drought-resistant plants and chip bark. It’s part of a water conservation project by the Housing Authority.

Resident Linda Pratt says tenants were given no warning about the new landscaping scheme.

Linda Pratt: “No. No, just give you a flyer one day and you have a meeting the next day and that was it … Didn’t ask anybody. Didn’t tell anybody.”

Pratt says many of the residents were stunned by the announcement.

Linda Pratt: “There’s a little lady in #1 that is 86. And she was so devastated that she was sitting there crying. That’s all she has. And that’s all a lot of us have is just a little piece to have our own garden and statement in.”

Pratt’s garden runs in a narrow strip along a sunny exterior wall, and ends in a small box near the front door of the apartment she shares with her husband Larry. She says her garden makes a big difference in her life.

Linda Pratt: “I love to be out in my garden. I do it every day. I’m always out doing something; weeding, checking my flowers or just looking at it. It’s relaxing, very relaxing and it’s important to me to have it.”

Resident Pamela Croddy says many residents’ gardens are therapeutic.

Pamela Croddy: “We have elderly ladies that just … Their flowers are so important to their peace of mind. And to be just told so quickly that’s it’s all going to be gone is really hard to take.”

And, she says, the gardens are a source of nutrition, too.

Pamela Croddy: “All of us who live here are elderly or limited-income people. And if we can augment our living by growing vegetables or having a fruit tree or just growing our own food, it’s helps us so much.”

Croddy says residents understand the need to conserve water. But, to her, depriving elderly people of their tiny gardens seems like a big price to pay for a modest saving.

When I contacted the Housing Authority of Jackson County, I was sent a short statement saying the planned changes were part of an effort to reduce Patio Village’s water bills. Reworking the irrigation system and installing low-flow toilets are also part of the project.

Housing Authority head Scott Foster declined a recorded interview. He told me the project had been planned for three years, but he confirmed there had been no effort to get input on the plan from the people who live at Patio Village. He said that kind of input is best provided by the landscape architect who designed the plan.  

Foster says the Housing Authority is working to “mitigate any inconvenience” to tenants.

The project is slated to begin removing the gardens by September 11th.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.