Project Gives Youth a Voice in City Budget Process

by Antonio Foster

The prospect of teenagers doling out almost a million dollars of city funds might strike fear in many grownups, but it evokes hope in Rahwa Habte.

For the past several months, the Columbia City resident and former mayoral aide, has worked to create “Youth Voice, Youth Choice.” The project, a part of Seattle’s participatory budgeting process, allows Seattle youth to democratically decide how to spend $700,000 from the city’s budget.

Partnering with the city, Habte and others collect funding ideas from youth ranging in age from 11 to 25 at “Idea Assemblies.” The assemblies are currently taking place across the city, at schools and community centers. After enough funding projects have been proposed, youth who’ve attended the assemblies will then have the opportunity to vote on what projects should receive funding. The size of awards will range from $25,000 to $300,000.

Habte spoke to the Emerald about how participatory budgeting can engage historically neglected Seattle communities, and why South Seattle youth should attend Thursday’s Idea Assembly held at the New Holly Gathering Center from 3:30pm-5:30pm.


What exactly is participatory budgeting and how did Youth Voice, Youth Choice come to fruition?

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a different way to manage public money, and to engage people in government. It is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It enables Seattleites to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives.

While this process has been happening in cities all over, Seattle is only the second city in the world to put the power in the hands of young people. In Seattle, youth ages 11 to 25 years old will be able to decide how to spend $700,000 of the city’s budget this year.


Why do you feel it’s important for youth to have a voice in the budgeting process?

In Seattle, young people are and have been organizing around community needs. I hear youth questioning what power they have in changing circumstances around them and what resources are available to make their ideas real. This process is one where young people truly do have the power to develop community sourced ideas and vote to make these ideas a reality.


What exactly happens at “Idea Assemblies”?

At Idea Assemblies, participants learn more about the PB process and get to pitch funding ideas. Participants work in groups to discuss needs in their communities and brainstorm ideas to help address these needs. Youth participants that are between the ages of 11 and 25 can sign up to be youth budget delegates at the assemblies. Youth budget delegates get to help develop ideas into feasible projects to be voted on in May.


What strategies have you used so far to engage youth?

We have connected with young people through schools, through after and out of school programs and nonprofits as well as organizations that are youth run or youth focused, that are trusted in the community and have a strong youth base. We have also been using social media to get the word out about the process. Youth can even submit an idea online or through social media through the hashtag #YouthVoiceSea.


If I’m a youth from South Seattle, sum up why it’s necessary for me to participate in this process?

For the first time ever, you get to decide how to spend a bunch of the city’s money. You can come on Thursday and pitch an idea to other members of your community. If you want, you can also help us develop these ideas into fundable projects that you and other young people will get to vote on in a few months. That’s real money and real power.


What happens after ideas have been submitted?

Youth budget delegates will work with the city and subject experts to develop ideas into fundable projects.  Fundable projects will get put on a ballot and in May, young people will get to vote on which projects to fund.