2020 Front Yard Initiative Homeowner Survey Findings: Executive Summary
New Orleans has a water problem. We get a great deal of rain (over 64 inches/year), and it’s coming with increasingly intense rainfalls. As yet, we haven’t assigned enough places for it to soak in and spread out rather than overwhelming our pumping system.
In 2015, the Urban Conservancy developed the Front Yard Initiative (FYI) to incentivize residential Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) as a complement to stormwater management mandates for large commercial and other redevelopments required by the City in its updated Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. Since then, FYI has incentivized property owners to remove paving to reduce flooding and subsidence by incorporating GSI into their yards to hold water where it falls. We have provided financial assistance (a taxable incentive) to 85 property owners, and technical assistance to thousands more to catalyze the use of GSI on residential properties in New Orleans.
To date, FYI has provided a total of $85,646 in financial incentives ranging in amounts from $105 to $1250 each, based on square feet of paving removed, resulting in the removal of over 52,000 square feet of paving resulting in approximately 2 million gallons annually being diverted from our pumping systems. These projects have provided $475,000 in economic stimulus to the green sector for goods and services procured. Most projects are a combination of sweat equity and contract labor, keeping average project costs between $5000 and $6000 (although project costs range from $120 to $35,244). This translates into an investment of between $5 and $6 dollars per gallon of storage capacity created. Philanthropic funding sources for the program include the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Wisner Fund, the Southeastern Sustainable Communities Fund, the Azby Fund and the Allianz Foundation.
We conducted this survey to:
- Learn how projects were holding up several years after implementation, both aesthetically and functionally; level of satisfaction homeowners had with their projects overall; the amount of maintenance projects required.
- Learn how participating in this project changed attitudes and behaviors related to green infrastructure. How much did homeowners understand the living with water concept prior to participating, and how much did their participation change their understanding of the concept?
- To understand how we can improve the Front Yard Initiative, both in terms of making it more accessible to more people (both homeowners and contractors) and to provide the ongoing resources people need to be good stewards of the projects.
Because we were interested in seeing how FYI projects do over time, Surveys (see Appendix A) were emailed in May to 78 participants.We surveyed only those with established GSI, whose projects had been completed since December 2019 or before. We received 68 completed surveys, representing 86% of all eligible respondents. We only collect data on those projects that receive financial incentives as part of FYI; there are countless property owners who install GSI but only receive technical assistance from the UC (e.g. call our technical advisor with questions, attend our workshops, use our Green Sector Directory to find contractors and vendors, or our Homeowner Toolkit to design their project). Those projects are not included here.
The findings have enormous implications for the future of the green sector. For example,
- Homeowners are enthusiastic and increasingly knowledgeable about green stormwater infrastructure with much to contribute to the expansion of adoption of distributed green infrastructure in New Orleans.
- An overwhelming majority of respondents have seen dramatic improvement in localized flooding on their properties, and those improvements grow over time as the plants are established and soil conditions improve. However, area flooding remains a problem.
- Participating in programs like FYI that combine implementation with education changes how New Orleanians feel about the importance of “living with water” principles.
- Sector-specific expertise is critical. Whether projects are largely DIY or handled by professional contractors, proper installation is critical to the continued effectiveness of the installation.
Recommendations for expanding residential GSI in New Orleans:
- Include a diverse array of residential property owners, GSI builders and designers, and native plant specialists in policy discussions to inform coordinated residential GSI strategy around community education and implementation.
- Incorporate GSI into street and other public infrastructure redesigns to complement investments on private property and to reduce area flooding.
- Identify financial products/subsidies needed to put GSI within reach of all New Orleanians, including ways to build GSI into affordable developments from the outset (in addition to retrofitting existing properties).
- Identify and address gaps in supply chains for products and services;
- Invest in robust, specialized green sector training that creates pathways into the sector for minority- and women-owned businesses.
- Invest in ongoing learning opportunities so homeowners can contribute to their GSI installation to the extent they want to and are able to.
- Collect comprehensive data and develop data-driven community benchmarks with shared specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely sector-wide goals identified (e.g. amount of residential water storage created, number or percentage of residential properties with GSI, ensuring equitable access to residential GSI and contracting opportunities).
Next steps for the Front Yard Initiative:
- Connect homeowners to workshops (our own or those conducted by others) on topics like soil conditioning, native plants, project cost estimating, water storage estimating.
- Work with partners to develop standards/goal-setting w/r/t residential water storage capacity, determining realistic and replicable dollar per gallon of storage.
- Identify ways to expand access to FYI and other GSI resources to those for whom a partial rebate provided as reimbursement is insufficient.
Read the report here >
About the Urban Conservancy: The Urban Conservancy is a non-profit organization leading and collaborating to strengthen New Orleans’ urban environment and local economy through equitable practices, policies and programs. We engage in hands-on programming to alleviate neighborhood flooding and create green sector job opportunities through our Front Yard Initiative. Learn more at urbanconservancy.org/fyi