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Management Hauls Off CHA Tenants' Urban Garden, Calling It A Hazard; 'I Feel Like They Stole My Things'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- People who live in a public housing complex on the North Side are furious with the Chicago Housing Authority, after building management dismantled an urban garden they called a fire hazard.

Tenants tried to bring a little joy to the back yard of their building, but management didn't see it that way.

Management hauled away a cabinet and other items from Maria Sopena's back porch. The CHA said they were a fire hazard.

"I had a lot of gardening things in there, expensive things," she said.

They also took a garden hose and plants from the yard.

"I had organic tomatoes, and peppers," Sopena said.

CHA didn't answer a question from CBS 2 about what hazards the plants posed, but did say those items violated public space and courtyard storage policies.

Somehow, those rules also prohibited a plastic children's picnic table, which also was removed.

"I feel like they stole my things," Sopena said. "When I come home from work, I'm exhausted mentally, and I like to garden. I like to go outside, and sit outside, and have my plants around me; the beauty. I'm relaxed."

CHA pointed to two hand-delivered notices sent to residents, requesting they remove the items from their back porch "as soon as possible" and warning that failure to do so would violate their leases. The notices were followed up by a phone call, according to the CHA.

But the notices mentioned only the back porch, and nothing about the yard, where a bag of soil was among items management hauled away.

Sopena admitted losing her cool a few weeks later, and slapping a worker who came back to take away more, but she said it was self defense.

"A huge planter that was ceramic, that wasn't cheap; I spent my hard-earned money on these things," she said.

The gardener estimated a loss of more than $1,500 in a claim she submitted to the CHA.

"I love to garden. It's my therapy," she said. "Because I live on CHA property I can't enjoy the outdoors? I can't have flowers?"

Ironically, the CHA applauded residents' gardens on its YouTube channel in a video posted in October 2016.

Sopena is looking for a lawyer to help fight the charges against her.

CHA officials said they are reviewing tenants' claims about their belongings.


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