CARROLL GARDENS — Over 2,800 people voted in District 39’s participatory budgeting program this year and a new study shows that the community-driven process brings in traditionally disengaged or marginalized voters in the city.
Through about 7,300 city-wide surveys and 82 exit interviews, the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center found that participatory budgeting, where community members can decide how to spend $1 million in taxpayer money on neighborhood improvements, attracts low-income, minority and women voters, as well as those disillusioned with the government.
Over 60 percent of PB voters were women, a third were people of color and almost a quarter reported having a household income below $35,000, according to the study, released last week.
Fifty-two percent of PB voters disapprove of how the government in New York City conducts its business and half of the voters had never worked toward solving a community problem before voting in participatory budgeting programs, according to the study,
A third of voters said they rarely vote and over 600 voters were barred from voting in general elections because of age, citizenship or prior criminal offenses, according to the study, which focused on youth and immigrant voters.
Residents, as young as 16, can vote on five PB projects, regardless of voter registration or immigration status.
“People want to be involved in making decisions about their community,” said Alexa Kasdan, director of research and policy of the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.
The study also found that 72 percent of voters were new to participatory budgeting, now in its second year in many districts. Eight City Council districts used the participatory budgeting program this year in deciding how to spend $1 million of their discretionary budget.
Councilman Brad Lander's District 39, which includes Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Columbia Waterfront, Gowanus, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, and Borough Park, voted on 24 projects last month, including a pedestrian safety plaza, a large-scale projector for free film screenings and an outdoor classroom with permeable paving and bioswales for a Park Slope school.
Six projects were finally approved, three from Carroll Gardens, such as renovating eight P.S. 58 bathrooms, new computers for the neighborhood library and enhanced tree-pits on Third Street between Bond Street and Third Avenue.
Residents are more engaged because PB projects are more tangible and they can actually see the result, said Kasdan.
Last fall, the several local committees brainstormed over ideas and narrowed them down based on use, feasibility and expense, since each project has a $500,000 limit.
The Urban Justice Center will also publish, later this year, a comprehensive report on their findings, including data collected from interviews with budget delegates.