Participatory budgeting boosts tenant engagement at TCHC
Photo courtesy of TCHC
In 2002, staff from the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) were inspired by the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Porto Alegre was the first city in the world to implement participatory budgeting, a process that directly involves citizens in budget decisions. For the past 12 years, TCHC has followed in the city’s footsteps and dedicated a portion of their capital budget to participatory budgeting.
This year, $5 million was allocated from TCHC for the initiative. TCHC’s participatory budgeting process is done on a building-by-building basis. The first step is to hold building meetings, which are open to all residents and take place in 330 properties across the city. At the meetings, residents identify projects that could improve their lives. Projects cannot be something that TCHC is already mandated to do, like repairing elevators or fixing roofs, but can be things like replacing carpet or flooring, upgrading a laundry room, or building a community garden.
Residents vote on one project to put forward, and a building delegate is selected. “The delegate doesn’t have to be an elected tenant leader – it can be anybody,” said Gail Johnson, Manager of Resident and Community Development (East) at TCHC.
“Often, it is the person that’s the most passionate about that project. It’s a great way for people who haven’t been involved before to start to be engaged.”
The selected projects from all 330 buildings are forwarded to the Facilities Management Department, which estimates how much each initiative will cost. TCHC’s 13 Operating Units then host Allocation Days. At the Allocation Day, the delegates from all of the buildings in the area make presentations and discuss the different projects. Finally, they vote on which projects are the most deserving.
The benefits of participatory budgeting to housing communities are extensive, said Johnson. “There are some residents who had no experience with community involvement, who got involved in participatory budgeting and have gone on to larger civic engagement,” she said. She also identifies
participatory budgeting as increasing residents’ knowledge and expertise about building systems and priority management.
One of the most important outcomes, though, is the feeling of community engagement and empowerment. “The whole community, when they do get these projects funded, they recognize that it came from them – that they identified the problem and fought for the solution,” she said.
“They have a real ownership over that part of the process.”
Johnson has many success stories about participatory budgeting at TCHC, but one of her favourites is from this year. At an Allocation Day in July, Johnson watched as delegates abandoned their own buildings’ initiatives to vote for other projects, such as the removal of hard-to-maintain carpets in one building.
Another successful project was put forward by a 12 year-old resident, who was requesting foundation work in her neighborhood so that donated playground equipment could be put in.
“She had the most amazing display board, and she wrote a poem,” said Johnson. “The first time I met her was at a building meeting when she was 10 years old, and she was asking about a playground. There’s no other way we could get the kind of community building and engagement that we get from this process.”