More than $5.1M is going to projects chosen by Bronxites through participatory budgeting

a large piece of paper shows people's ideas for funding
Five Bronx City Council districts voted on where capital funding will go in their districts through the city’s years-old participatory budgeting process. Pictured, New Yorkers brainstorm ideas for participatory budgeting in 2014.
Photo William Alatriste for the New York City Council

More than 5,100 Bronxites voted on how more than $5.1 million will be spent across five City Council districts through this year’s participatory budgeting process.

The program allows residents in participating districts ages 11 and older to vote on how about $1 million of city capital dollars are spent in their district. Councilmembers can choose whether to undergo the process, which involves allowing constituents to pitch and vote on capital projects to fund.

Capital funding goes to physical improvements to public spaces like schools, parks and libraries.

Citywide, 29 out of 51 council districts participated in the process this year, and five of the nine Bronx councilmembers opted in. Four of those councilmembers brought the program to their districts for the first time last year — Amanda Farías, Marjorie Velázquez, Pierina Sanchez and Kevin Riley — and Althea Stevens also participated this year.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams said this is the first time the City Council is doing the program as a legislative body since the start of the pandemic. However, 15 councilmembers across the city participated in the program last year, it was just facilitated by volunteers instead of the City Council. A handful of districts also underwent the process separate from the legislative body in 2020-2021.

The city’s participatory budgeting program began in 2011 and former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of the politicians who launched the effort, made it an official program in 2014.

More than 60,000 New Yorkers across the city voted on projects from March 25-April 2 this year to decide where nearly $32 million in capital funding would go. Of these votes, 57% were cast through paper ballots and 43% were submitted online. Ballots were available in 21 languages.

Stevens and Farías saw the largest voter turnouts of the five Bronx districts that participated this year, with 1,925 and 1,433 votes, respectively, according to numbers provided to the Bronx Times by the City Council.

Stevens’ district allocated $250,000 to a courtroom renovation at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, $65,000 for technology upgrades at Morrisania Library, $250,000 for a basketball court renovation for IS 339, The Bronx School for Continuous Learners, and $300,000 for a bathroom upgrade at the Dr. Charles R. Drew Campus. Stevens’ district includes parts of the Southwest Bronx, such as Highbridge, Claremont and Morrisania.

“The participatory budgeting cycle was a great opportunity to strengthen the community partnerships, but more importantly to increase youth civic engagement in District 16,” Stevens said. “As this year we prioritized Youth Center Projects, we were able to get young people excited about the governmental process through outreach as they were able to be a part of the future investments of their community.”

Farías’ district allocated $750,000 to bring central air conditioning to the gym at X282 Women’s Academy of Excellence and $500,000 to a life skills classroom — which can include a kitchenette, bed and a washer/dryer — at P17X, a school that serves students with special needs. Farías represents parts of the Southeast Bronx, like Soundview, Castle Hill and Parkchester.

“Students and faculty have been using the gym for years without proper air conditioning making it hard to continue practicing their sports and physical education classes without discomfort from the heat,” Farías told the Bronx Times. “Council District 18 is a highly congested community with high rates of asthma and because of those health implications air conditioning in our public schools is that much more essential.”

Sanchez’s district allocated $750,000 to a gymnasium upgrade at MS 390, $50,000 to a cafeteria renovation at BronxWorks Senior Center, $64,470 to a mini STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) lab and technology upgrade to the Francis Martin Library, $51,234 to a new media center at PS 206 and $55,500 to tree planting at University Wood Park. Her district, which includes the West Bronx neighborhoods of University Heights, Morris Heights, Kingsbridge and Fordham, saw 800 votes.

“For the second year in a row, the Northwest Bronx directly determined how to spend $1 million in city tax-payer funds in our neighborhood,” Sanchez said. “This decision was made with the support of our local organizers, from parent leaders to student volunteers who dedicated their time to collect over 800 votes. The power lies with the people.”

Riley’s district, which collected 565 votes, allocated $50,000 for technology upgrades at the Baychester Middle School, $400,000 for a gym air conditioning system for the Bronx Alliance Middle School and $750,000 for a playground renovation at PS 087. Riley represents parts of the Northeast Bronx, like Baychester, Williamsbridge and Edenwald.

“This initiative is a true testament to fostering opportunities for community members to play an integral part of our City’s budgeting process,” Riley said. “From the youth to our older adults, I thank all participants for their leadership, showing their communities that their votes truly do count. The voting results of this year’s Participatory Budgeting cycle echo the direct needs of the communities we serve.”

Velázquez’s district allocated $175,000 to the hydroponic science lab at PS 392, the Bronx Delta School, to support the STEM curriculum, $455,000 to technology upgrades — like computers, printers and wireless internet — for seven library branches in her district and $202,000 for NYPD security cameras. There were 382 votes in her East Bronx district, which, among others, includes the neighborhoods of Throggs Neck, Allerton and Pelham Bay.

The camera locations will be determined after the councilmember consults with the 45th and 49th precincts, she told the Bronx Times.

“Civic engagement supports and uplifts all voices, and with Participatory Budgeting, we are empowering residents to vote on projects they want to see in their neighborhood,” Velázquez said.

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes