Seattle's Participatory Budgeting Process

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (OCR) houses the City’s $27.25 million participatory budgeting (PB) process that invites community members to design and fund solutions to community safety and wellbeing. The process began during the national social movement of 2020 that called upon cities to do more to dismantle systemic racism and invest in Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities consistent with applicable law.  
 
Participatory budgeting deepens democracy, builds stronger communities, increases civic engagement, and creates more equitable distribution of resources. Winning projects will invest in focus areas guided by community research, including education, housing, mental health, and economic development.  
 
OCR oversaw the Request for Proposal process to select a third-party administrator—the Participatory Budgeting Project—to establish a community-run proposal development and voting process to identify winning projects. The voting period concluded November 2023, identifying six winning proposals:

  • Native Youth: Past, Present, and Future ($7.2M): Funding for a Duwamish centered community center offering recreational, educational, and cultural programs that foster community engagement, promotes well-being, and supports cultural preservation
  • People Not Police Crisis Response Team ($2M): Invests in mental health professionals trained to serve as first responders to mental health crises  
  • Housing Support ($2M): Provides housing navigation and assistance services for people experiencing homelessness or housing instability  
  • Public Restrooms ($7.2M): Funds staffing and maintenance of public restrooms and hygiene facilities 
  • Urban Farming and Food Equity ($7M): Leases green spaces to increase access to fresh food, local businesses ownership, and training for small-scale farmers  
  • Housing Support for Youth ($1.85M): Connect youth and young adults with supportive housing or rental assistance, while also convening and compensating a youth committee to oversee outreach efforts and resource connections

For more information, click here to view the press release announcing awards.  

The next step is to prepare standalone legislation authorizing funds for implementation of the specific winning projects. Identified City departments will implement projects directly or conduct a Request for Proposals process to equitably award funds to community-based organizations.  

Updates

Now that winning projects are identified, OCR’s role is to convene City departments and PB community members to align plans for implementation strategies and prepare standalone legislation required to authorize the $27.25 million for implementation of specific projects. This work began in January 2024 and the team is meeting regularly.  

Updates regarding project implementation by City departments, and Request for Proposal (RFP) processes open to community organizations will be posted here when information becomes available.

Upcoming Information Sessions 

Join OCR for a virtual information session on March 26, 2024 from 6pm to 7:30pm to learn more about next steps toward project implementation and ask questions about the process. 
 
Participatory Budgeting Information SessionHosted virtually on Zoom 
March 26, 2024 | 6:00 PM 
Click here to join meeting, or 
 
Join by phone at:  
+12532158782 (Tacoma) 
+12532050468 (US) 

Meeting ID: 834 7575 2505 
Passcode: 006177 

On December 5 and 12, 2023, SOCR hosted live information sessions that included an overview of the process and next steps toward project implementation. A recording of the presentation is available here. 

Our Commitment to Transparency

Our vision at the Seattle Office for Civil Rights is a city of thriving and powerful communities that foster shared healing and belonging. We understand that healing cannot happen without full transparency and honesty to the communities we serve. 
 
Our mission is to uphold civil rights and end structural racism in city government through accountable community relationships and anti-racist organizing, policy development, and civil rights enforcement. We understand that we cannot be true to our mission without upholding a participatory budgeting program that repairs the harm experienced by Black community and staff. 
 
We commit to openness, authenticity, integrity, collaboration, and thoughtful planning throughout the process of supporting the participatory budgeting program. Further, we acknowledge the valid criticisms that exist on the transparency that the City has displayed throughout this process and how that has caused significant harm, especially to Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities. The Office for Civil Rights’ commitment is to offer access to information; that members of the communities most impacted by racism, oppression, and colonization hold the right to see how this process works, how and by whom decisions are made, and how decisions will affect them.  

Seattle first launched it a participatory budgeting process in 2015 in the Department of Neighborhoods with a focus on youth, then grew to include all residents in 2017.  
 
In September 2020, Seattle City Council designated $3 million for research by the Black Brilliance Research Project on how to address public safety for communities disproportionately affected by police violence and systemic racism. The report, released in 2021, recommended implementing a participatory budgeting process to create an inclusive process that interrupts harm and follows Black leadership by co-creating investment strategies with community members within the following five focus areas:

  • Housing and physical spaces including diverse housing options and Black-led residential and commercial spaces
  • Mental health, including with culturally responsive health services led by people with lived experience who receive equitable pay for their services
  • Youth and children, including child care and out-of-school time support for youth most impacted by systemic violence and trauma
  • Economic development that creates pathways to business ownership and generational wealth
  • Crisis and wellness strategies, including community-led alternatives to the current 911 and crisis response system

FAQs

What is Participatory Budgeting (PB)?

Participatory budgeting is a democratic process, where communities and members of the public decide how to spend allocated public funding. PB allows those generally left out and marginalized from budgetary conversations to have a voice in the process.  

Graphic explaining the participatory budgeting process. White background with teal letters.

Graphic from Participatory Budgeting Project

Where else has participatory budgeting been done?

Seattle is not the first city to utilize a participatory budgeting process. Other cities across the United States have implemented participatory budgeting to make investment decisions in education, community development, housing, and other areas. Learn more about participatory budgeting taking place in other jurisdictions using the links below:   

King County, WA
Participatory Budgeting Project
New York City, NY
Cambridge, MA
Boston, MA

Which departments will be assigned funding for projects?

This is not yet confirmed. SOCR is currently working with other City departments to develop an implementation plan.

What is SOCR's Role?

The implementation timeline is still being developed, but we anticipate funds made available through RFP processes will begin to become available late 2024. More information will be posted on this page as it becomes available.  

Where does the PB funding come from?

In 2020, when cities were called upon to make greater investments in communities most impacted by systemic racism and police violence, Seattle City Council designated $30 million from the City’s general fund for this PB process, which included a $2.75 million allocation to identify a third-party administrator to develop community-informed proposals and run the voting process.

Timeline

2015

The City of Seattle launches its first participatory budgeting process in the Department of Neighborhoods (DON). 

2020

Nationwide protests demand police accountability and greater investments in Black communities and those most impacted by police violence. The City of Seattle allocates $3 million in Black-led research to explore community-led solutions to community safety and wellbeing, which recommends PB as a potential solution.   

2021

Seattle City Council designates $30 million to expand the PB process, which included $2.75 million to identify a third-party administrator to develop community-informed proposals and run the voting process. This PB process is moved from the Department of Neighborhoods to the Office for Civil Rights. OCR releases a Request for Proposal to identify the third-party administrator.

2022

The Participatory Budgeting Project is selected as the third-party administrator. Teams are assembled to advise on work, facilitate community engagement, and support feasibility of the projects that would be developed.

2023

Community members co-design proposals for the PB ballot, and a voting process is conducted, which yields six winning projects.  

2024

OCR convenes city departments and community members to align on plans for implementation and prepare required standalone legislation to authorize funding for the winning PB projects. 

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The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) works to advance civil rights and end barriers to equity. We enforce laws against illegal discrimination in employment, housing, public places, and contracting within Seattle.