Participatory Budgeting in Toronto’s public housing has been used to help deliver trust, empowerment and new stoves!
Since 2001, the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) has used a participatory budgeting process to involve tenants in budget decision-making. The budgeting process has meant tenants get to decide how to spend $9 million per year, or 13% of the TCHC’s capital budget.
The TCHC is the largest social housing provider in Canada and the second largest in North America, with 164,000 tenants housed in over 350 high and low-rise apartment buildings and 800 houses and duplexes.
With an average income of $15,400, TCHC residents are generally low-income individuals and families. Many residents are new immigrants, elderly, disabled, or single parent families – some of the most marginalised populations in Toronto.
In 2000, staff developed a participatory budgeting process in response to tenant demands and budget pressures.
Based on the Porto Alegre model, a small team of staff developed a new participatory budget process. After developing the basic process, staff and tenants revised the model through experimentation in two pilot projects.
Tenants began the first participatory budgeting cycle in 2001 and finished in December 2003. In 2004, the TCHC undertook an extensive evaluation of the first cycle, and based on tenant and staff input they began to revise the budgeting process.
The first participatory budgeting cycle provided funding for 237 local capital projects that were prioritized by tenants, such as new stoves, playgrounds, and roof renovations. In addition to these material benefits, the process helped tenants learn about each other and about different communities.
Tenants and management developed greater mutual understanding, trust, and reciprocity. As one participant said, “when you are sitting in your own community, you don’t understand why they don’t fix things or why you can’t have the things you want, such as a new playground. With this budget process, people began to see how limited the funding was and the need for it out there.”
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