Participatory budgeting set for March vote

Ray Figueroa explains how a youth-run greenhouse he wants Mott Haven residents to vote for would operate, if they vote for it as part of a new community budgeting initiative. Photo by Alex Robinson

Ray Figueroa would like to see a solar-powered greenhouse at Millbrook Houses in Mott Haven, with a farmer’s market that would be run by young people from the neighborhood. Some want designated barbecue areas, while others want the streetlights fixed.

These were among dozens of initiatives Mott Haven residents serving as volunteer budget delegates presented at Betances Houses on St. Ann’s Ave. in late February, as part of City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito’s first participatory budgeting project.

The delegates who decided on the projects volunteered last fall to take part in helping decide how to divvy up $1 million in funding for projects ranging from youth recreation to playground renovations.

All of of the delegates live or work in Mark-Viverito’s district. They have been shrinking the list since area residents came up with over 500 proposals in November. A mere 28 project possibilities remain. These are up for a final vote across Mark-Viverito’s district in March, which includes Mott Haven, East Harlem and the Upper West Side.

After the presentations, residents in the small crowd read descriptions of the proposed items on poster boards and had a chance to ask questions.

Other proposals that have survived the cut so far include the installation of security cameras at Millbrook Houses, new recycling bins, and playground renovations at numerous public housing complexes.

Ray Figueroa explained the value the solar-powered greenhouse at Millbrook Houses could have for the neighborhood.

“We’re talking about growing food and growing income; harvesting health and harvesting wealth,” he said.

“The greenhouse is an investment for the future,” said delegate Joe Perez. “It will teach our kids how to grow and how to run their own business.”

Perez said the farmer’s market would keep money in the community because local residents will not have to negotiate with farmers from upstate when they bring in produce.

Adriane Agostini of Mott Haven said she likes the idea of the greenhouse because it will show kids how to grow their own food and give them a safe place to go.

“We need more projects like this to get kids off the streets,” she said.

Perez said he may vote for a streetlight fixing initiative at a public housing complex.

“I’ve seen some of this housing at night and I wouldn’t walk through them unless I had the marines behind me,” he said.

Mark-Viverito said she will use the results of the project as a benchmark to help decide the rest of her budget. Even ideas that do not survive the final vote may get some funding, she said, depending how much she has available in her budget. She added she would consider allocating more of her budget to participatory budgeting next year.

“Looking at the projects people are coming up with and then looking historically at what I’ve allocated money to, I’m glad and comfortable that I’ve been able to put money where people say they want it,” she said.

The Councilwoman’s office has now given the delegates the task of informing residents about the process, and getting out the vote.

All residents of Mark-Viverito’s district who are over 18 are eligible to vote. Voters can choose up to five different proposals on their ballots.

Final voting on which of the 28 projects will get funded is slated to take place on March 31st between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. at Betances Senior Center, at 401 St. Ann’s Ave, or during work hours at the Councilwoman’s office at 110 E. 116th St. between March 25th and March 31st.