RIVERBANK — Marie McAnally says she spent nearly $200 for a white picket fence to enclose the tiny back yard at her apartment in a public housing complex.
Her neighbors say the fence adds a nice decorative touch to their six-unit complex for low-income seniors. McAnally, 78, says the fence gives Tavi, her 7-year-old Scottish terrier, a fenced-in yard to romp and play in.
"He's not a house dog. He likes to stay outside," she said.
McAnally, a widow, said the fence makes her feel more secure.
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But the Housing Authority says McAnally is breaking the rules by not getting written permission before putting up the fence and it must come down. The same is true for a smaller fence put up by neighbor Pat Butterfield for her dog, a Chihuahua-terrier mix named Gabby.
The women received letters dated Aug. 19 saying they had 30 days to restore their apartments to their original condition. McAnally is being asked to remove a small shed from her back yard, which she said she will do.
If the women don't comply, they could be sent a second letter giving them 30 more days to comply or the housing authority could cancel their leases and start the process of eviction.
"We are not going to fight it to the point where we are going to be evicted," said McAnally, who has lived in her Sierra Street apartment downtown for nearly five years. "I love my area here. But we are going to fight it."
The two women were writing a letter Thursday to the Housing Authority's executive director and hope to meet with him. (The authority is not part of city government, though the City Council appoints its board members.)
McAnally chuckled about the fuss the fences have created. "Isn't that something? Federal housing is going to evict two elderly seniors because they are fighting for a fence."
Butterfield had her fence put up about Mother's Day this year.
McAnally said she had an ugly chicken wire fence anchored by two redwood posts for a few years until she replaced it in February with the white picket fence.
She said she was given verbal permission for the chicken wire fence. McAnally said she assumed it would be fine to replace the chicken wire with the white picket fence.
But in May, Gabriel Juarez, the Housing Authority's deputy director of housing management, spotted the picket fence when he checked the apartment complex after new roofs were put on. McAnally said Juarez has been rude and abrasive when they've talked about the fence, which he denies.
"She just didn't like what I was telling her," he said.
He said the Housing Authority has a responsibility to taxpayers to maintain its 90 units.
"It's the principle for us," he said. "This is public property. Tax dollars pay for this complex. If we allow them to deteriorate, then we would not be doing a very good public service for the taxpayers."
He said the Housing Authority has had to fix apartments after tenants have jury-rigged their electrical system, changed the locks and torn drywall for unapproved home improvement projects.
He said McAnally removed landscaping to put in her fence, leaving a dirt patch behind the fence. He said the grass in the back yard is overgrown because gardeners don't have access.
McAnally had a doggie door cut into the door leading to her back yard, which was not approved by the Housing Authority. Juarez said the door is reinforced and costs $600. McAnally said her children will replace it when she leaves.
He said the rules are clear that tenants must get written approval before making any modifications, adding it's not fair to bend the rules for two tenants.
If the two women remove their fences, Juarez said, they are welcome to apply for written permission to put them back up, though he would not say whether he would grant it.
"We are trying to resolve this amicably with both of them," Juarez said.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2316.