by Jessica Rojas, NECN

The Albina ReLeaf project is the first program of its kind in Portland, according to the Albina Neighborhood Tree Team (ANTT), and it has already served as a model for other Portland tree teams to begin helping low-income homeowners plant and maintain healthy trees in more areas around town.

The Albina ReLeaf project, part of the ANTT, is a fiscally sponsored project of NECN. With funding support from the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, the Albina ReLeaf project provides assistance to low-income homeowners by removing dead trees and replacing them strategically to minimize risk and increase biological diversity.

The ANTT reports that 54% of households in Boise are low income, which is above Portland’s average, and when the project began working in the Boise-Eliot neighborhoods, the Boise tree canopy cover was only at 21% of the area. Tree care can be an economic burden to property owners. In urban areas and dying trees are a safety liability to homeowners. Long term tree survival requires consistent investment in arborists, which can be a financial barrier for many, especially for fixed income seniors.

In 2014, the ANTT’s inventory of the neighborhoods’ 4500+ trees, completed with the help of Portland Parks and Recreation’s Urban Forestry program, revealed a lack of species and age diversity among the trees in the Boise-Eliot neighborhoods.

“Tree care can be an economic burden to property owners.”

The dominant family of species belongs to the Rosaceae family, consisting mostly of Prunus (cherry and plum) and Acer (maple) genera, making this limited diversity of trees vulnerable to pests and pathogens in addition to the increasing impacts of a climate in flux. Maintaining a diverse mix of species ensures a forest’s (whether urban or rural) ability to protect its own health by disrupting the pathways for disease and pests to flourish.

While a conventional metric for evaluating forest health by measuring species diversity is the 10-20-30 rule: no more than 10% of one species, 20% of one genus and 30% of one family, the Albina Releaf project proposes that in the face of climate change and considering Portlands temperate conditions that naturally welcome species diversity, a 5-10-20 practice, in line with more progressive forestry programs, should be the ideal goal.

To help the new trees get their best start, Depave, a local nonprofit that specializes in recruiting volunteers to remove concrete, will assist by cutting out a strip of the concrete to widen tree   wells and make more room at the base of the tree. This will prevent the roots from breaking up the sidewalk, another liability to pedestrian safety.

The Albina ReLeaf team members hope to expand this work to address the sidewalk repair from past trees, hopefully with permeable paving, which allows rainwater to be absorbed. This also alleviates the stormwater burdens on our citys sewage system.

The Albina Tree Team is looking to expand the ReLeaf program to adjoining neighborhoods and hold more events aimed at promoting a healthy urban forest. To learn more and sign up as a volunteer, please contact or visit