Participatory Budgeting FAQ
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Participatory Budgeting FAQ


What is Participatory Budgeting?

How does it work?

What kinds of projects can be funded?

Is my Council Member participating?

Who participates?

What happens when?


What is Participatory Budgeting?

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. In other words, the people who pay taxes decide how tax dollars get spent. Participatory budgeting is grassroots democracy at its best. It helps make budget decisions clear and accessible. It gives real power to people who have never before been involved in the political process. And it results in better budget decisions - because who better knows the needs of our community than the people who live there?

In 2011, four New York City Council Members - Brad Lander, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Eric Ulrich, and Jumaane D. Williams - launched a PB process to let residents allocate part of their capital discretionary funds. This year, twenty-eight Council Members are participating in the process, giving the community real decision-making power over more than $30 million in taxpayer money.

The Brazilian city of Porto Alegre started the first full PB process in 1989, for its municipal budget. Since then, PB has spread to more than 1,500 cities around the world. Its usually used for city budgets, but states, counties, schools, universities, housing authorities, and coalitions of community groups have also used PB to open up spending decisions to the people.

In 2015, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University announced the New York City Council the winner of the Roy and Lila Ash Innovations Award for Public Engagement in Government, for its efforts to “engage residents from communities most often left out of traditional methods of public engagement.”

How does it work?

PB lets the whole community participate in decision-making. It’s a yearlong process of public meetings, to make sure that people have the time and resources to make wise decisions. Community members discuss local needs and develop proposals to meet these needs. Through a public vote, residents then decide which proposals to fund.

For more information on participatory budgeting and how it has worked elsewhere, visit the website of The Participatory Budgeting Project

What kinds of projects can be funded?

Discretionary funds are money that the City Council Member allocates. There are two types of discretionary funds. Expense funds are used to pay for salaries and services. Capital funds are used to pay for physical infrastructure - for “bricks and mortar” projects.

For the time being, PBNYC only deals with CAPITAL money. That means community members can propose projects like improvements to schools, parks, libraries, public housing, and other public or community spaces.


Is my Council Member participating?

For the 2015-2016 cycle, the following members are conducting a participatory budgeting process in their districts:

  • Andrew Cohen (District 11, Bronx)
  • Robert Cornegy (District 36, Brooklyn)
  • Costa Constantinides (District 22, Queens)
  • Laurie Cumbo (District 35, Brooklyn)
  • Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens)
  • Mathieu Eugene (District 40, Brooklyn)
  • Julissa Ferreras (District 21, Queens)
  • David Greenfield (District 44, Brooklyn)
  • Barry Grodenchik (District 23, Queens)
  • Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan)
  • Ben Kallos (District 5, Manhattan)
  • Karen Koslowitz (District 29, Queens)
  • Brad Lander (District 39, Brooklyn)
  • Steve Levin (District 33, Brooklyn)
  • Mark Levine (District 7, Manhattan)
  • Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx)
  • Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn)
  • Daneek Miller (District 27, Queens)
  • Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens)
  • Donovan Richards (District 31, Queens)
  • Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan)
  • Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan)
  • Ritchie Torres (District 15, Bronx)
  • Mark Treyger (District 47, Brooklyn)
  • Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens)
  • Paul Vallone (District 19, Queens)
  • Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens)
  • Jumaane Williams (District 45, Brooklyn)

Who participates?

New Yorkers cast 51,362 ballots in the 2014-2015 Participatory Budgeting cycle. Approximately one in five ballots were cast in a language other than English.

According to preliminary findings from the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center, of Participatory Budgeting voters surveyed during Cycle 5:


  • Nearly 60% identified as people of color
  • Approximately one in ten were under 18
  • Nearly 30% reported an annual household income of $25,000 or below
  • More than a quarter were born outside of the U.S.
  • Nearly a quarter reported a barrier to voting in regular elections, with one in ten reporting they were not U.S. citizens
  • 63% identified as female
  • Nearly 20% had a high school diploma or less (of those 25 years old or older)


For more research on the impact of Participatory Budgeting, review the annual research reports published by the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center:

What happens when?

Neighborhood Assemblies: September - October 2015

At public meetings in each district, community members learn about PB and discuss their community’s needs. They then brainstorm project ideas and select budget delegates.

Delegate Orientations: October 2015

Volunteer budget delegates learn about the budget process, project development, and key spending areas, then form committees.

Delegate Meetings: October 2014 - December 2015

Delegates meet in committees to transform the community’s initial project ideas into full proposals, with support from Council Member staff and other experts.

Project Expos: February-March 2015

Delegates present draft project proposals to the community and get feedback, with which they revise the projects.

Community Vote: March 2015

Residents vote on which projects to fund at voting sites throughout the district.

Implementation & Monitoring: April 2015 onwards

The Council Members submit their spending priorities to the City Council’s Finance Division, including the winning PB projects, for inclusion in the City budget. Community members evaluate the process, and oversee the implementation of projects.

Research and Evaluation happens throughout these stages, to improve the process for next year.