Get permission to use the land from the PRA, Public Property, or PHDC

The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) has launched a new program called Philly Land Works or “the Front Door.”  This program provides a path to license, lease, and purchase land from the PRA, the Department of Public Property, and the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC).  PRA now makes it easier to find out which agency owns which lots and what lots are available for sale.   This program does not apply to privately-owned lots.

When the PRA lists a property on its website as “available,” the agency is telling the public that this parcel is available for license, lease, or sale.  The PRA does not always know that a community is gardening on the land.  Some parcels have been listed on the website by mistake.  If you think this listing is in error, you should contact your district councilperson and the PRA.  If the PRA has not listed this parcel by mistake, you may wish to contact the PRA to find out how you can continue your garden or farm on this parcel.

What are my options?

  • (1) Continue gardening as you are, but understand that there are risks associated with growing food and gardening without permission on land that you do not own.
  • (2) The City offers Garden Agreements or licenses to individual or household gardeners.  Under this type of agreement, the City has the right to terminate the lease agreement at any time, although the City will make efforts to not terminate between April 1 and November 1.
  • (3) The City also allows individuals who own the property adjoining a vacant lot as part of the City's dollar side lot program.
  • (4) A Community Garden or Open Space Group may also secure a Garden Agreements.  Community groups may also obtain a Community Garden Lease for up-to-5 years.  A lease will allow you to stay on the land for longer and is harder to revoke than a license.  Community Garden and Open Space Groups will be required to secure general liability insurance acceptable to the City.
  • (5) A Market Farm may secure a Market Farm Lease from the City for a period to be negotiated on a project-by-project basis. Market Farms will be required to secure insurance acceptable to the City, including general liability insurance, automobile, and workers’ compensation/employer’s liability insurance, as applicable.
  • (6) Contact your district councilperson and the PRA to see if you are eligible to purchase the property for a discounted price or for a nominal fee ($1).

How do I get started?

  • (1) Go to the Philly Land Works site to find the lot in your life. If the lot is listed as "available," click on the “For Sale” icon on the parcel to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI).
  • (2) If you do not have a computer or cannot access the internet, you can call the PRA at 215.854.6500 or write to PRA, 1234 Market Street, 16th Floor, Philadelphia, PA.
  • (3) Contact your district councilperson for support.  The City requires a letter of support from your councilperson for a lease of longer than one year or sale of land.
  • (4) If you have additional questions, you can contact your local community development corporation or civic association or the Garden Justice Legal Initiative.

What happens next, after I file an EOI?

  • In response to filing an EOI, you will be given a tracking number. You should also get an email response from either PRA, Public Property, or PHDC, letting you know that your application is being processed.

If you are seeking a lot for yourself or your household and your application is accepted:

  • (1) You will be offered a Garden Agreements, which are for one year and are revokable at any time.  This process is fairly simple and just required a vote by the board of the land-owning agency.
  • (2) If you own the property adjoining the vacant lot, you may ask to purchase the lot through the city's dollar side lot program.
  • (3) Individuals seeking to license, lease, or purchase property from the City will need to fill out Tax Status & Public Disclosure form.

If you are applying as a garden or open space group:

  • (1) The current default process is to offer garden and open space groups Garden Agreements, as well.  Groups can get lease of up to 5 years, in certain cases.  City policy also allows gardens to be purchased for discounted or nominal ($1) sale
  • (2) If your group wishes to get a lease or purchase the property, even as a dollar sidelot, you will need to make a specific request and submit a proposal to the land-owning agency.  Leases of longer than one year and sales require City Council to pass an ordinance, so you will need to get a letter of support from your district councilperson.  It is also helpful to get letters of support from neighbors and from your local neighborhood organizations.

What do I do if the lot is not listed as "available?"

A vacant lot may not be listed as available for one of several reasons, for example:

  • (1) The lot is privately owned or owned by the Philadelphia Housing Authority or city agency that is not part of the Philly Land Works program.
  • (2) Another individual or entity has already filed an EOI on that lot and a sale or lease is pending.
  • (3) PRA has knowledge about an existent garden on the vacant lot, particularly where a garden has had an Urban Garden Agreement to use the lot in the past.
  • (4) The City's or PRA's data about ownership or availability is incorrect.

If you have questions about why a vacant lot is not listed as being available, call PRA or your district councilperson.

What do I do if a lot where I am currently gardening is being offered for sale by PRA?

All of the pathways described above should be open to you, whether or not you are already gardening on that parcel.  It can be helpful if you are able to demonstrate to the land-holding agency that a community group has been successfully gardening on a particular plot of land for some time and with broad community support.  Click here to read the City's current land disposition policies (page 57).

What if the City requires me to get liability insurance?

The American Community Garden Association provides one option, offering affordable liability insurance policies for its members.  The Garden Justice Legal Initiative and others are currently researching other options.