A grant program to help Littleton residents remove trees has been pruned by the city as redundant, but a similar program run by a local nonprofit apparently won’t fill the bill.
The City Council approved changes to the city’s tree policy on April 15, including the elimination of a grant program for homeowners to remove trees or limbs that have been identified as a public safety concern.
The program, which cost the city $5,000 to $6,000 annually and helped four to six homeowners a year, was designed to help homeowners whose income was below an eligibility threshold.
Charlie Blosten, the city’s public works director, said it didn’t make sense for staff to spend time calculating the income requirements of applicants.
“The public works staff isn’t qualified or experienced in that type of analysis,” Blosten said. “It got very difficult for us to administer the program, where we have to spend our money to do work on private property.”
But an alternative program mentioned in a City Council briefing paper, South Metro Housing Options, doesn’t offer grants, nor does it specialize in helping homeowners remove trees.
Instead, the Littleton-based nonprofit provides and manages low-income housing, and it offers several programs for low- and moderate-income homeowners.
The briefing paper said: “Low- and moderate-income households can apply directly to South Metro Housing Options Housing Rehabilitation Program for loans or grants to assist with hazardous tree removal.”
“We don’t have a grant program for trees. We have a housing rehabilitation program that’s geared for moderate-income homeowners,” said Dan Burnham, executive director at South Metro Housing Options. “We’re focused on bringing a house up to code. We have removed trees as part of a whole project, but we don’t have a grant program for tree removal.”
South Metro provides homeowners with low-interest loans, at about 4.4 percent for up to 10 years, Burnham said, to pay for repairs and renovations to bring homes up to code. While the homeowners pay for the repairs, South Metro manages the projects.
Like the city’s former grant program, homeowners need to make no more than 80 percent of the median income in the area to qualify for a loan from South Metro.
South Metro’s rehab program is on hiatus as it is undergoing a revamp, said Jo Hamit, assistant director at South Metro.
While there are no concrete plans to add a grant or loan program specifically focused on tree removal, Hamit said such a program could be added when the program is reintroduced in several months.
In a statement about the changes, the city said, “South Metro Housing Options is currently updating the program, which should be ready to roll out this summer. They support tree removal in areas when it is a safety issue.
“Most of the residences which would qualify for the program … probably also need other improvements or repairs, so we are confident that the intent and needs will be met. If not, we will explore other options for moving forward.”
Mayor Phil Cernanec said that, given the city’s limited financial resources, it made sense not to spend tax revenue on private properties or provide resources when a similar program existed.
“What it was trying to do is say, ‘Let’s not have a program that overlaps where folks can get resources. I understand the difference between a loan and a grant,” Cernanec said. “The city’s not in a really great position to do a lot of hand-out programs.”