Some low-income property owners in Minneapolis who have been charged big bills for removing diseased trees from their lots will receive financial help, thanks to a $500,000 donation from the Margaret A. Cargill Fund of the St. Paul & Minnesota Foundation.

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which accepted the grant, will use three-quarters of the money to retroactively pay assessed fees for trees afflicted with emerald ash borer that were removed. The money will cover the costs of the assessments between October 2022 and October 2023 on 169 homesteads in north Minneapolis and the Seward and Phillips neighborhoods. The board expects to use more funds as they receive more invoices for removed trees in future months.

Emerald ash borer has been killing ash trees throughout the city since it was discovered more than a decade ago, and the city has condemned about 16,000 trees during that period. Another 12,000 infested trees in low-income neighborhoods are expected to follow in the next five years.

Park Board commissioners have heard from community members that assessments have an inequitable effect on property owners in disadvantaged areas. People in those areas have fought for assistance, including retroactive aid.

The new funds follow $8 million awarded to the city several months ago by the U.S. Forest Service to remove trees on private property infested with emerald ash borer, which also focused on easing the burden on low-income property owners.

"We are so grateful for [the foundation fund] for stepping up and helping the Minneapolis community with this need," Park Board Superintendent Al Bangoura said in a statement.

A need beyond what the funds will cover remains, and the Park Board says that it's still seeking money for people whose trees were removed before 2022.

Amoke Kubat, 73, saw a man inspecting a large tree in her backyard a week after she moved into her newly purchased North Side home in 2021. He determined it was diseased and tagged it to be condemned although Kubat thought the tree appeared healthy, she said. Then the city condemned the tree in her front yard, too. Kubat received an assessment of more than $6,000 for the removal of the trees: one-third of which she paid, one-third that was covered through a grant from nonprofit Metro Blooms and one-third that is pending.

"I live with a fixed income of very little on Social Security retirement money," said Kubat, an artist who looks for grants to support her work. "I'm house-poor, actually. I live basically one check to the other, so any kind of expense [like this] is pretty alarming."

She's one of many homeowners who won't benefit from the recent grant monies because the retroactive date doesn't go back to 2021.

"It's not going to help us ... I'm concerned about that," Kubat said.

The Park Board plans to use another quarter of the funds to clear any private property tree removal assessments that become pending between Nov. 1 and the still unknown date that the Forest Service grant assistance starts.