If you get an error like:
[Thu May 31 13:02:16 2012] [crit] [client] (13)Permission denied: /home/chris/.htaccess pcfg_openfile: unable to check htaccess file, ensure it is readable
Then you are probably trying to serve files from within a directory which Apache cannot reach due to file permissions in the parent directories of your DocumentRoot directory.
You will need to ensure that all parent directories have execute permission to allow the apache user to traverse down to your DocumentRoot.
chmod o+x parent_directory
If this is not an option due to your security perferences (you don't want a world-readable home directory) then consider putting your DocumentRoot directory outside of your home directory.