Let 16-Year-Olds Serve on Community Boards, Politicians Say

By Lindsay Armstrong on March 17, 2014 10:33am 

 Councilman Ben Kallos wants to extend community board membership to older teens.
Councilman Ben Kallos wants to extend community board membership to older teens.
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Kallos for Council campaign

UPPER EAST SIDE — The City Council is considering a resolution that would bring civics lessons out of the classroom and into real life for New York City teens.

Councilman Ben Kallos introduced a resolution last week in support of a state bill that would lower the age requirement for serving on neighborhood community boards. Currently, a person must be 18 to become a community board member. The bill, which is backed by Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and state Sen. Andrew Lanza, would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to serve.

“One problem that I think we have as a society is that we don’t allow young people to become civically engaged,” Kallos said. “By the time they are old enough to participate they may be frustrated by their lack of empowerment. By doing this early, we can set people on that path of civic engagement.”

The resolution also points out that 16- and 17-year-olds are often tried and imprisoned as adults under New York State law, but have no legal venue in which they can voice thier opinions about community needs.

Kallos noted that he and his co-sponsors, Councilmen Ritchie Torres and Mark Levine, have dubbed the proposal the “Scott Stringer Resolution,” in honor of the former Manhattan borough president and current city comptroller. Stringer served on his uptown community board beginning at age 16.  

Stringer is not the only teen to have received special permission to serve on a community board. Six years ago, 16-year-old Jonathan Ehrlich was appointed to Community Board 8, where he and Kallos worked together to form the board’s first Youth and Education Committee, Kallos said.

The experience convinced Kallos of the merits of allowing young people to serve.

According to testimony from the Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer's office, the youth voice is currently under-represented on community boards. Only 6 percent of this year’s new applicants for Manhattan community boards were between 18 and 24 years old.

During her testimony at a recent Council hearing on community board reform, Brewer encouraged the committee to consider extending membership to older teens.

“I have worked with hundreds of interns over the years and have seen firsthand the meaningful role that young people can play in shaping policy and enhancing our neighborhoods,” she said.

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