2011-08-12 / Top Stories

City Officially Challenges Census Numbers

New York City officials argued on Wednesday that the official 2010 count overlooked at least 50,000 residents of Brooklyn and Queens living in homes and apartments that the bureau incorrectly concluded were vacant.

If they had been counted, they would have increased the city’s population beyond 8.2 million, the Bloomberg administration said in its formal challenge of the count submitted to the Census Bureau.

The population count released by the Census Bureau in March said the city grew by 166,855 people, to 8,175,133 since 2000 — a rate of only 2.1 percent, compared with 9.4 percent during the 1990s. City demographers maintain that while the recession and the aftermath of 9/11 slowed growth in the last decade, New York is now home to at least 8.3 million people.

The city maintains that the bureau committed counting errors across the city, but its challenge focuses on four neighborhoods — Astoria and Jackson Heights in Queens, and Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn — that the Bloomberg administration says are among New York’s most vibrant communities.

While any readjustment would come too late to affect the reapportionment of Congressional districts that is based on official census counts, more than bragging rights are at stake. A higher count could mean more federal aid in categories apportioned by population and a bigger base from which subsequent annual population estimates issued by Census Bureau are computed until the next census, in 2020.

“I recognize that enumerating the population of New York City is a Herculean and unenviable challenge, given the city’s large, diverse and dense population, which lives primarily in difficult to count housing arrangements,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in a letter to Dr. Robert M. Groves, the director of the Census Bureau.

But armed with detailed evidence from demographers in the Department of City Planning, the mayor insisted that local census workers responsible for Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Astoria and Jackson Heights “erroneously classified large numbers of housing units as vacant.”

“Numerous data sources cited in our submission refute the prevalence of widespread vacant housing units in those areas, which are and continue to be among our most stable, growing and vibrant neighborhoods,” Bloomberg wrote. “This disproportionate concentration of vacancy suggests that some aspect of the census enumeration went awry in these two offices, with likely processing errors that may have hindered the proper reporting, compilation, and tabulation of census results.”

Suggesting that rectifying the undercount in those two areas would add tens of thousands of people, the mayor added, “We will continue to work with you to address the other areas of error throughout the rest of the city, but today we are providing detailed data about the two specific areas where we believe the most significant errors occurred.”

The city unsuccessfully filed a formal challenge to the census count in 1990. Five years ago, city demographers persuaded the Census Bureau to raise its July 1, 2005 estimate by 160,000 — including 64,000 found by the city’s Planning Department — to 8.2 million. The 2009 American Community Survey had placed the population estimate at 8,391,881.

The census’s official 2010 count also seemed a bit curious because while it found 166,000 more New Yorkers than in 2000, the census said the number of homes and apartments in the city had increased since then by 170,000.

By the official count, the population of Queens rose by only 1,343, or 0.1 percent, since 2000 and of Brooklyn by 39,374, or 1.6 percent. The city concluded that neither the bureau’s earlier American Community Survey nor its separate Housing and Vacancy Survey supported the 2010 count. Neither did the pace of new construction, foreclosures nor average rents, which should have declined if more apartments were vacant.

The city’s claim of an undercount will be heard by an office in Washington responsible for such challenges.

Since June, 48 localities have filed challenges under the bureau’s count question resolution program, which considers questions of misplaced boundaries and, in the case of New York City’s complaint, of coverage where housing units were excluded because of processing errors. Only one count has been adjusted so far, in Maharishi Vedic City, a community in southeastern Iowa founded by followers of the Transcendental Meditation movement, where the count was increased from 259 people to 1,294 to reflect misplaced housing.

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