$1.8M in Funding to Be Split Among Six Projects in East Harlem, The Bronx

By Jeff Mays on April 12, 2013 10:00am 

HARLEM — Carver Houses will receive $173,000 for a youth and senior technology center while another $180,000 will be used to fund a mobile van that teaches about healthy cooking.

The projects are two of six in District 8 that will share $1.8 million as part of the city's participatory budgeting process. More than 1,800 residents of council District 8 voted on how to spend a portion of the funds from Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito's discretionary budget.

"All the projects that won improve life for the community," Mark-Viverito said.

It's the second year in a row that Mark-Viverito has allowed constituents to vote for projects they'd like to see funded. This year, 800 more people voted than last year and Mark-Viverito gave out $300,000 more dollars from her budget for projects.

Last year, Mark-Viverito had about $8 million total in her discretionary funding budget. It's unclear how much funding she will get in this year's budget.

"As the process continues to go forward people will take greater ownership," she said. "It's very exciting to see that happen."

Mark-Viverito is one of eight New York City council members who are conducting participatory budgeting exercises in their district, up from four last year. More than 1.3 million New Yorkers are eligible to have a say in how the funding is spent this year, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project.

More than 1,200 cities around the world use participatory budgeting, including Montreal, Chicago, and Toronto, according to the project. New York's participatory budgeting process is now the largest in the country with $10 million in public funds being voted on.

Alexa Kasdan, director of research and policy at The Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, said in a statement participatory budgeting "engages people who are disenchanted with politics and traditionally excluded from civic affairs."

Data collected from last year's vote shows disenfranchised groups were participating in the process. About half of those who voted earned below the median income while 21 percent were born outside of the United States.

About 64 percent were women, the data showed.

The participatory budget process can also be way to solve the long-time criticism of the council's discretionary funding practice, which has been susceptible to corruption. Queens City Councilman Daniel Halloran, who was arrested last week as part of an alleged plan for state Sen. Malcolm Smith to bribe his way onto the Republican ticket for mayor, dangled $40,000 to $80,000 in his City Council discretionary funding as a tool in the plot, according to prosecutors.

That sparked criticism of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn because of the power the speaker has in doling out the funds to council members. Some council members said they would refrain from endorsing anyone in the mayoral race, in which Quinn is a candidate, for fear of reprisal using the distribution of the discretionary funds.

Josh Lerner, executive director of The Participatory Budgeting Project, said the process could help reduce allegations of corruption and use of the funds for purely political purposes.

“If the City Council and the Mayor adopt participatory budgeting, New Yorkers could make sure their tax money is used wisely.” Lerner said in a statement.

Mark-Viverito agreed.

"This is the way it should work. We can work in partnership with our constituents to decide what decisions to make," she said.

Among the other projects to be funded in District 8 are $450,000 for laptops for several area schools and $500,000 for the instillation of security cameras at four New York City Housing Authority developments.

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