URA LandCare Program

The LandCare program is a localized maintenance program that allows small businesses and nonprofits to participate in vacant lot maintenance for the URA’s portfolio. The program launched in September 2016 with 7 community-based contractors maintaining roughly 350 URA-owned vacant properties. Since then, the program has grown to incorporate the rest of the URA’s portfolio and supports 9 small businesses and nonprofits that actively steward URA property.

To learn about the results of the pilot year of the LandCare program, check out our Sustainable Return on Investment report. A summary is available here.

LandCare Map Description:

LandCare contractors visit each parcel in their bundle at least once a month and report on every lot they maintain. Each contractor has assigned colors (see map key). Click on a parcel to view pictures and information about the work being done in your neighborhood. Light colors indicate that the parcel has yet to be visited. Darker colors indicate that the parcel has already been visited and maintained this month.

LandCare Program Design

In November of 2015, the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) put out a request for proposal to improve the vacant lot maintenance process to enable new opportunities for community benefit.

While we are primarily focusing on URA-owned property, we know this is only a small fraction of the entire vacant land portfolio, and completely excludes additional blighted structures. While it is a starting point, if successful this process can be used as a baseline model for the City portfolio as well.

We also recognize that this program will need to have a phased and intentional approach – for this reason, we partnered with several small business and local landscape contracting groups to help inform the process and understand and potential barriers in the current system and in anything we may recommend.

“We hope it will improve their economic position, so they can move onto something more career-oriented. It’s also for the Hill District community. We certainly want to enhance the image.”

Lee Walls - on employing 9 residents for maintenanceExecutive Director of Amani CDC

Our first step was to understand the current system, so we interviewed everyone that interacts with the current contracting process to understand the level of work – our partnership with University Center for Social and Urban Research (or UCSUR at Pitt) are helping with understanding data trends in 311 as well as exploring some new technologies that could increase efficiency internally and with contractors.

We have compiled national best practices to learn about how other cities like Pittsburgh have designed similar programs. Additionally, we needed to define what community benefit means as it pertains to vacant land maintenance. Dr. Bey from UrbanKind Institute assisted us with soliciting input and translating questions, concerns, and interests into actionable elements in a new process.

We recognize that by adding benefit, we are adding programmatic elements and administrative process, which inevitably adds cost that must be addressed, but by diversifying and expanding the program above and beyond basic maintenance, we can begin to access other funding sources – our partners at Fourth Economy Consulting are helping us do this. We ultimately need to find efficiencies and develop systems for accountability between contractors and the URA and also between the communities who are affected by the work.

To that extent, our team hosted a series of community meeting in April 2016 across the city to solicit input around the URA vacant lot maintenance process. We talked with over 100 residents between the 5 community meetings, and have worked hard to compile their input in a way that is friendly and accessible.

After making recommendations for a new and improved “LandCare Program,” we worked with the URA to establish a new 2-tiered program that separates the URA portfolio into 8 bundles of properties. Seven of the bundles are of roughly equal size and condition located in Homewood, Larimer, Manchester, Hazelwood, and the Hill District. The remaining bundle included the remainder of the portfolio. Two RFPs were posted in June-July 2016 and contractors selected in August with work to begin in September. The LandCare Program represents the opportunity for 7 new small businesses and nonprofits to participate in localized land maintenance process.

Since the development of the LandCare program, 7 small businesses have contracts, 55 individuals employed in property maintenance, and 2.5 million square feet of vacant land cleaned and maintained.

The LandCare program is committed to inclusion and diversity. All qualified firms will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, age, protected veteran or disabled status, or genetic information.