Residents weigh in on budgetary needs

By on October 15, 2013 8:41 am
Residents help decide on neighborhood priorities at the latest participatory budgeting meeting on Oct. 5 at Abraham House on Willis Avenue.

Steven Trader

Residents help decide on neighborhood priorities at the latest participatory budgeting meeting on Oct. 9 at Abraham House on Willis Avenue.

Lighting and youth programs top list of wants

Mott Haven residents gathered on Oct. 9 to consider how to spend a million dollars on some pressing needs in the community.

The meeting at Abraham House on Willis Avenue was part of a citywide Participatory Budgeting initiative implemented two years ago by four city council members, including Melissa Mark-Viverito who represents East Harlem and Mott Haven. 

Eight other council members in districts around the city have implemented the initiative, which calls on their constituents to propose and vote on projects they think will help upgrade their communities with money the council members allocate from their budgets.

Among the items attendees proposed at the meeting were improved lighting for local housing projects, the reopening of the Mott Haven Community Center on 143 St. and Willis Ave., equipment for children’s playgrounds and after-school programs and funding to help kick start the borough’s first ever Children’s Museum.

About 25 people broke up into two groups and circled around giant sheets of paper hung on the walls to exchange ideas.

“What’s good about it is that you are able to ask for money that is otherwise not normally available and getting it for your community,” said Princella Jamerson, a Millbrook House tenant. She proposed several different ideas, including better lighting in front of Millbrook.

Creating meaningful opportunities for Mott Haven’s young people was a recurring theme among the proposals.

“Educational programs are definitely important, there’s not enough programs for the youth in the neighborhood,” added John Johnson, a local tenant leader and member of Community Board 1.

Meetings to take proposals from the community will extend through the end of October. Residents chosen to be project delegates will continue to meet and debate project plans and costs through next March.

Once the proposals are finalized, they will be put to a community vote in April. The winning projects will then go on for inclusion in the full City budget.

Despite an initial commitment of $1 million in funding last year, Mark-Viverito spent almost double that amount, $1.9 million, on six projects throughout the district including additional security cameras for some NYCHA complexes, laptops for schools, and a solar-powered greenhouse at Millbrook Houses.

“I actually think that we’re going to see a lot of participation over here in the South Bronx and a lot of collaboration between the two boroughs in this district,” said Joseph Taranto, Mark-Viverito’s deputy chief of staff, adding “we’ll see the Bronx get its share.”

Last year, Mott Haven represented a small part of Mark-Viverito’s district, but earlier this year the city’s redistricting commission reshaped the lines, putting 50.1 percent of her district in the neighborhood.

Mark-Viverito did not attend the meeting at Abraham House. She was in San Juan, Puerto Rico working with that city’s mayor to help implement participatory budgeting.

Ray Figueroa Jr., whose proposal for a solar-powered green house at Millbrook Houses garnered the votes needed for implementation last year, said that project is moving slowly through the bureaucratic phases of the city’s financing process.

“It really is a very enlightened initiative,” Figueroa Jr. said of the budgeting initiative, adding that it is “the sort of thing that will help to galvanize civic engagement.”

Others agreed the process helps energize residents, and will keep them involved in the political process.

“Once they see those projects actually happen and come into play for the community, that will be a beautiful thing for them to say ‘hey, I was involved with that,’” said Johnson.

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