All neighborhoods have room for improvement. But those that struggle the most are often located in disadvantaged areas where blighted properties, violent crime, a lack of affordable housing, and sparse green space contribute to low morale in the community and poor health outcomes. This is where community development organizations come into play, creating meaningful neighborhood partnership projects that address social determinants of health and committing significant financial resources to these projects over the span of several years. UPMC Health Plan takes an active role in improving neighborhoods across Pennsylvania.
Bayfront East Side Task Force & Our West Bayfront
As the only community-based development organization in the City of Erie, Bayfront East Side Task Force (BEST) is uniquely positioned to make real and lasting change for the nearly 3,000 residents of Erie's historic East Bayfront neighborhood. UPMC Hamot hospital is one of the founding partners of BEST and UPMC Health Plan's regional office is located near BEST's service area. From 2013 through 2018, UPMC Health Plan committed financial support for BEST's strategic neighborhood partnership project, enabling BEST to award mini-grants to homeowners for residential facade improvement, provide education to residents about maintaining their homes, acquire and demolish blighted properties, help seniors and disabled residents make home repairs, and restore and beautify green space. In 2017, UPMC Health Plan committed to another neighborhood partnership project combining resources from Our West Bayfront, Gannon University, and BEST to further develop Erie's Bayfront area. These organizations will work together over the next six years to implement a master plan for the renovation for a major community park and playground, make improvements to public infrastructure such as parking lots and sidewalks, and pilot a neighborhood security camera program. The collaborators will also make significant repairs to about 20 homes in the City of Erie to ensure compliance with maintenance code standards.
The “hilltop” neighborhoods of Pittsburgh (those located immediately south of downtown) are served by the Hilltop Alliance, an organization focused on residential and business development and creates partnerships for family growth and stability in the region. UPMC Health Plan has committed to fund the Hilltop Alliance’s neighborhood partnership project through 2020. The project operates primarily in the Allentown neighborhood, but its effects are felt throughout the hilltop community. As of 2017, Hilltop Alliance had successfully overseen the renovation of 66 residential properties, a 5 percent decrease in residential property vacancy, and a 23 percent decrease in commercial property vacancy. Events are held throughout the year to bring current residents and new visitors into the business district, such as a restaurant crawl and a block party with live entertainment. The Fresh Fridays program addresses food insecurity in the hilltop community by distributing about 80,000 pounds of produce to residents annually. The Hilltop Alliance is working with residents and local partners to beautify vacant lots and develop safer, more accessible parks and green spaces where children can play. Additionally, Hilltop Alliance’s partnership with educational organizations such as the Brashear Association’s Allentown Learning and Engagement Center and Work Hard Pittsburgh gives residents access to quality educational programming and workforce development opportunities. Hilltop Alliance’s 2016 Community Impact Report explains in greater detail what its neighborhood partnership project has done for the communities it serves.
Lawrenceville Corporation & Lawrenceville United
Lawrenceville Corporation and Lawrenceville United are two community planning organizations that are working together to address four areas of need in Pittsburgh’s up-and-coming Lawrenceville neighborhood: authenticity and health of place; safe and convenient transportation and mobility infrastructure; healthy and active living; and clear pathways to education and employment. With a commitment of financial support from UPMC Health Plan through 2019, these organizations are leading the region in acquiring and recycling vacant land, developing new commercial space, and creating affordable housing to improve the quality of life for residents. In fact, between 2017 and 2019 alone, these organizations are expected to create 51 new and affordable housing units. Their work also includes the first Community Land Trust in western Pennsylvania – an innovative tool that will deliver permanent and affordable housing for low-income families for at least 99 years.
McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation
McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (MRCDC) was formed in 2003 to address the issue of property blight and economic disparities in the McKees Rocks and Stowe Township communities. However, it was not until 2010 when MRCDC developed a neighborhood partnership project and received a long-term financial commitment from UPMC Health Plan and other organizations that the community began to see fast-paced change. Today, downtown McKees Rocks is home to a vibrant arts and cultural center and developing mixed-used spaces—including the renovation of the 88-year-old Roxian Theatre, which is poised to become a live music venue. MRCDC has also been able to facilitate the reconstruction of the community's economic engine: a 130-acre brownfield that is fully committed for private development and anchored by the 50-acre CSX Intermodal facility. MRCDC is addressing the rising prevalence of diabetes and hypertension in McKees Rocks and Stowe Township by creating green space and bike trails to give residents safe places to be physically active, and hosting farmers' markets with fresh produce at an affordable price. Programs such as "Ready To Work Sto Rox" enable community residents to overcome barriers to employment and provide a dialogue between employers and hopeful applicants. Additionally, MRCDC created and sustained a youth partnership that keeps over 30 organizations communicating and collaborating to build stability for youth outside their homes.