Adding Young Faces to Old Community Boards

Email a Friend

Leila Eliot, 16, is one of the newest members of Manhattan’s Community Board 3 on the Lower East Side. She is also the youngest.

Eliot said she’s qualified to weigh in on matters such as zoning and land use decisions, or help determine if a new liquor license application should be approved because of her past experience volunteering for former City Councilwoman Rosie Mendez and her interest in local politics. And, she said, because teens need to be given a greater voice in the city.

"To have adults make these decisions like what time parks close I think is not giving the full picture and not representing the full community," she said.

Critics have long complained that community boards are not independent or diverse enough. A state law approved last summer may begin to change that by allowing residents as young as Eliot to serve. She estimated that she’ll be devoting about ten hours per month to her work as a board member in addition to her studies at Bard High School Early College.  

Borough presidents have final say about who’s appointed to sit on each of the city’s 59 community boards. Manhattan BP Gale Brewer has embraced representation by young people more passionately than some of her colleagues. Her office organized several outreach sessions with youth to educate them about what it was like to serve, initiated a Facebook ad campaign and offered online sign-up’s for the first time. As a result, Manhattan received 35 applications this year from teens — far more than any other borough. 

Brewer said she has gotten push-back from a few insiders who were less excited about the young representatives.

"Some of the older members have said to me they don't know if this is a good idea and I looked at them and said 'it's a law,'" said Brewer.

Community board members are appointed for staggered, two-year terms. Selections for open seats this year are expected to be announced by May.