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Expanding participatory budgeting

Many Chicagoans involved in “participatory budgeting” in four Chicago wards this year “want to see the program expand,” Joel Handley reports in the final installment of a series in In These Times.

In the 5th Ward, the most popular choices of residents voting on how to spend aldermanic “menu money” included beautification projects like a community garden on 71st Street (the top vote-getter) and a community mural, along with public safety projects like streetlight repairs.

But “the inadequacy of the ward’s menu money to fix the ward’s most demanding problems — housing foreclosures, school closures and gun violence” — could be a reason that turnout wasn’t higher in the 5th Ward, according to Handley.

“Some are eyeing the public schools budget or the entire city budget” as areas where participatory budgeting could play a role.

In Porto Alegro, Brazil, where PB was invented in the late 1980s, the process governed “much of the city’s budget,” and residents voted to build affordable housing, pave roads, build schools and deliver clean drinking water.  In a poor district of Mexico City, residents reclaimed public lands, distributed food and gas to poor residents, and slashed the salaries of elected officials.

South Shore resident Elliot El-Amin thinks PB should be brought to bear on Mayor Emanuel’s $50 million private fund for anti-violence programs.

“At the press conference he had announcing this, the mayor only mentioned youth basketball leagues,” El-Amin said.  “If that’s all you can come up with, with $50 million dollars, I think somebody’s got  lot more money than they’ve got ideas.”

Next year, several more wards are expected to introduce the process.  Last year the first citywide participatory budgeting program in the U.S. was initiated by Vallejo, California, a Bay Area city of 116,000 people.

Fifth ward votes on budget

Fifth Ward residents voted May 4 to select neighborhood infrastructure projects funded by $1.3 million in aldermanic “menu money,” In These Times reports in the third installment of a series on the process.

Street lights and a community garden on 71st Street got the most votes, with other winning projects ranging from sidewalk repairs and security cameras to public murals.

Ald Leslie Hairston was one of  three aldermen implementing participatory budgeting this year, four years after it was introduced here in the 49th Ward, and thirty years after the concept was pioneered by the Workers Party in Brazil.

A core of volunteer community representatives spent months winnowing down 150 ideas raised in brainstorming sessions last October into specific, feasible projects.

Only 104 residents turned out in the 5th — more than 400 voted in the 45th and 46th, and 1,427 voted in the 49th — and volunteers later discussed ways of improving outreach and turnout next year.

In New York City, where participatory budgeting was introduced on a small scale last year, organizers have succeed in boosting the participation of low-income residents — far above their turnout rate in local elections — as ITT reported in a previous installment. That article charts the history of participatory budgeting around the world, where it’s been deployed with varying degrees of success.

Maria Hadden of the Partipatory Budgeting Project points out that, while voter turnout matters, the opportunity throughout the process for residents to “develop a community voice and learn how to use it” is just as important.

“When I’m driving around the city, I’ll say, ‘Oh, they’re doing this here,’ or ‘they’re doing that there,’” one participant told ITT.  “I’ve always wanted to be a ‘they.’

“Communities always have things put upon them,” said Angela Sims, an intern with UIC’s College of Urban Planning, who volunteered for the project. Participatory budgeting “can bridge the ‘they’ and the community,” she said.

Series author Joel Handley will lead a panel discussion of the lessons to be learned from the Chicago experience for the Illinois Humanities Council on June 11 at the Cultural Center; more information here.

Participatory budgeting in the Fifth Ward

In These Times is following Fifth Ward residents as they grapple with participatory budgeting, a public process for allocating infrastructure dollars.

Forty residents are serving on committees to sift through suggestions from the public and come up with proposals to be voted on in May.  At this point, ideas range from the mundane — more streetlights — to the fanciful — a heated driving range at Jackson Park’s golf course.

Invented by the Workers Party in Brazil in 1989, participatory budgeting was introduced in Chicago in 2009 by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore.  Residents discuss and vote on proposals for spending the $1.3 million in aldermanic menu money each ward gets annually for small infrastructure projects.  This year, three additional aldermen are implementing the concept.

“In a city not inclined to involve the public in decision-making,…the democratization of ward menu money is a small step, but a significant one,” writes Joel Handley.

The article is the first installment in a series that will follow the process through the final vote.

Local Reporting awards for 2013

The second round of awards in the Local Reporting Initiative will back fourteen community news projects focusing on issues on the South and West Sides ranging from youth violence to realities facing the LGBTQ community in the criminal system.

Each project will receive $5,000 to support original reporting or data analysis from the Community News Matters program of the Chicago Community Trust.  The program is backed by CCT, the MacArthur Foundation and the McCormick Foundation.

Issues to be covered include subsidized housing, participatory budgeting in one Chicago ward, health care challenges facing veterans, the community impact of redevelopment of the U.S. Steel site, domestic violence and mental health in Back of the Yards, the impact of incarceration on Chicago communities, and school reform in Humboldt Park and Bronzeville.

Recipients range from established outlets like the Chicago Reporter and In These Times to grassroots projects like the Neighborhood Writing Alliance and Austin Talks, and include several freelance journalists.

The initiative is a response to findings of the 2010 Community News Matters study that found that residents of low-income South and West Side neighborhoods felt that traditional news outlets do not cover relevant issues in their communities.

To keep up with the latest output from the Local Reporting Initiative, follow the Community News Project blog.

Here are the recipients of the 2012 Local Reporting Awards:

  1. Chicago Reporter, to investigate Chicago’s Section 8 housing program;
  2. Windy City Times, to investigate the realities facing the LGBTQ community in the criminal legal system;
  3. In These Times, to explore participatory budgeting on Chicago’s 5th ward;
  4. Health and Disability Advocates, to document health care difficulties facing local military veterans;
  5. Bill Healy, to enhance the content and distribution of projects by fellow award winners;
  6. Kari Lydersen, to explore community impact of South side steel site redevelopment;
  7. The Gate, to explore domestic violence and mental health in the Back of the Yards community;
  8. Latinos Progresando, to document monologues by youth regarding Latino and American cultural perspectives;
  9. Austin Talks, to produce a video documentary about homicides of Chicago youth;
  10. Carlos Javier Ortiz, to produce a video documentary of youth violence at Stroger Hospital;
  11. Neighborhood Writing Alliance, to document the impact of incarceration among West and South side Chicago residents;
  12. Kalyn Belsha, to investigate leadership support for Latina women in Chicago;
  13. Amandillo Cuzan, to produce a video documentary on Bronzeville area schools;
  14. Westside Writing Alliance, to document the impact of school reform in the Humboldt/Garfield Park area.

Tenants organize at Far South complex

With curving streets and well-tended lawns and gardens, the Princeton Park complex on the Far South Side seems like the perfect place to raise a family – until you look inside the townhomes, where repeated flooding has caused mold and decay and lead chips fall from windows and door frames.

Princeton Park tenants are organizing and have taken the landlord to court, alleging among other things that he charges tenants for routine repairs, in violation of the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance.  Metropolitan Tenants Organization tells their story in a new article at Progress Illinois.

Local Reporting Initiative Round Table at 2011 MMC

Pictures taken by Jill Stewart.

Illegal evictions in the ‘foreclosure belt’

Illegal evictions of tenants from rental buildings are most common in a “foreclosure belt” stretching across Chicago’s South and West Sides, according to a new report (pdf).

The Lawyers Committee for Better Housing reports that banks routinely violate state and federal laws protecting tenants in buildings in foreclosure.  The “most egregious cases” are concentrated in 20 low-income black and Latino communities where more than 10 perecent of the rental stock is impacted by foreclosure, the group reports.

Stretching from South Chicago to  Chicago Lawn, from Englewood to Brighton Park, up to North Lawndale, Austin, Garfield Park and Humboldt Park, and out to Belmont Cragin and Avondale, these communities constitute Chicago’s “foreclosure belt,” according to the report.

In these communities, the “mass destruction of rental units” has created a downward spiral of blight and disinvestment.

“Illegal constructive evictions that lead to building vacancies and boardups have a clear solution: enforce the already existing laws that protect tenants living in foreclosed buildings,” according to the report.  More at Newstips.