Loreese Cain in front of house
Loreese Cain stands outside her home on Detroit’s west side during a May 3, 2023, press conference about a new tree management program for residents. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

Loreese Cain was relaxing at home when something loud and heavy smashed into her roof. 

The senior and lifelong Detroiter stepped outside to find a massive tree branch had fallen from a crooked old elm tree next to the house she’s owned for 51 years. The branch dislodged a roof gutter and came within a few feet of knocking down a power line connected to her home in the Hubbell-Lyndon neighborhood. Several more limbs – still draped directly over her roof – swayed in the breeze Wednesday morning. 


Cain wants to be first in line for a new city program investing $8.3 million to clean up dead, dangerous and diseased trees on private property. She’s long worried about branches falling from the tree, which sits at the edge of her property line and has branches looming over her neighbor’s home, but Cain couldn’t afford to have the tree trimmed. 

“I’m glad this program is going on, because if that tree would fall it would be on the (power) line and I would have more problems,” Cain said of the elm tree branch that came down two months ago. “Now we’ll see progress.” 

City officials who gathered outside Cain’s house Wednesday to announce the program said Detroit has never before provided tree trimming and removal services for residential properties. The new program is paid for with $5 million in surplus funds and a $3.3 million boost secured by the City Council. 

“It’s super scary to have rain and wind and you hear this tree outside creaking,” said Kimberly Jones, an arborist with the city’s General Service Department. “I’ve removed trees off of houses from storm calls. The danger is real. I’m happy we’ll be able to help people sleep at night.” 

Residents can apply online or by calling (313) 224-4444. Jones said 600 trees are already on the list, and the work will start as soon as contractors are identified. Renters can apply for the program, but the homeowner must sign off before the city can start any trimming or removal work. 

Jones said priority will be given to seniors, veterans, residents with disabilities and people who receive a city property tax exemption and are compliant with city codes. The city will also consider how dangerous the tree is, based on the findings of a city inspector. 

two women standing with each other outside
Kimberly Jones, an arborist with the city’s General Service Department, and Mary Bulger, right, attend a May 3, 2023, press conference announcing tree management services. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

“You can also have a tree trimmed, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that you need to get rid of your beautiful shade tree in the backyard for your picnics,” Jones said. “Maybe there’s just that one limb that’s hanging over the house and you’re worried about the gutter. We also trim trees as well.” 

Council President Pro Tem James Tate said there’s a large demand for tree cleanup across the city. Tate himself was hit with a $7,000 bill to trim a tree at his house after putting it off for years. 

“Many residents are not blessed to be in a position to (pay for) that,” Tate said. “No tree will go unturned, as we say. We’ll do everything we can to address as many trees as possible.” 

people shaking hands with each other
Detroit resident Loreese Cain shakes hands with Detroit City Council President Pro Tem James Tate following a May 3, 2023, press conference about a new city program to remove and trim dangerous and dead trees for homeowners. (City of Detroit photo)

Mary Bulger lives down the street from Cain. She said a limb knocked her whole electrical box off the back of her house a few years ago, which cut her power and cost $1,500 to repair. 

Tate said the goal is to reduce the potential for falling trees to damage homes and power lines. 

“We’ve seen year after year we have these storms, some not terribly strong, take down trees and take down power lines,” Tate said. “That’s the goal. How do we reduce the pain that is inflicted by these trees that come down on residents’ property?” 

How many households will be served depends on a variety of factors, so city officials couldn’t provide a solid estimate. Jones said costs can range widely depending on the size, location, species of tree and other variables. The city has removed more than 30,000 dead and dangerous trees from city properties over the past eight years.

“For some trees, the contractor will be able to pull up to and pull down but for others they will have to climb up because you can’t get a truck back there,” Jones said.

Jones said contractors will take the trees to dump sites or sell the wood chips and lumber to other companies. 

 large elm tree
Several branches of a large elm tree are hanging over Loreese Cain’s house and a neighboring property on Detroit’s west side. One branch came down on Cain’s roof two months ago, causing damages. (BridgeDetroit photo by Malachi Barrett)

City data shows dead and dangerous trees are most common in City Council District 1 on the northwest side of Detroit and District 3 on the city’s northeast side. Jones has worked for the city for three decades. She said Detroit used to have a more robust tree management staff, but that has fallen by the wayside over time. 

“Detroit was once known as the city of trees,” Jones said. “We had a really aggressive tree care and maintenance program. We had trim crews in different neighborhoods that did nothing but care for trees, and at some point we went away from that. I’m so happy to see we’re coming back.” 

An outbreak of Dutch elm disease caused Detroit to suffer a major loss of trees between 1950 and 1980, followed by the spread of a destructive beetle in 2002 that decimated ash trees that were planted to replace the lost elm trees. Tate said he helped convince Mayor Mike Duggan to allocate more funding to manage trees that have been long neglected. 

“It wasn’t a matter of battles or negotiation, (Duggan) recognized clearly this was an issue and he’s put the city’s money where our mouth is,” he said. 

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