Last Wednesday on the steps of Brooklyn Borough Hall, census organizers provided an update on self-response rates, urging all New Yorkers to be counted before the deadline at the end of the month.
As of September 8, New York has a self-response rate of 61.9 percent, compared to a national rate of above 65 percent. The state is ranked 34th in the nation. Meanwhile, New York City’s self-response rate is just under 60 percent.
Brooklyn’s self-response rate is just 54 percent, making it last out of the five boroughs. Borough President Eric Adams said grassroots, community-based organizations, the ones that have helped residents with rent, food and other services during the pandemic, need to be empowered to help communities fill out the census.
“Now is the time to do the last dash for September 30,” Adams said.
The borough president noted that the federal government, through its “hate rhetoric,” has intimidated local families from participating.
“We need to counteract that intimidation,” he added. “We don’t want to be last again.”
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said that message is particularly important for immigrant communities, which are distrustful of the federal government.
He said despite the Trump administration’s previous attempts at adding a citizenship question and other efforts to prevent immigrants from being counted, “they have lost every single time.”
“The Trump administration has enacted actions that have led to fear, misinformation and confusion about the census,” said Meeta Anand, Census 2020 senior fellow at the New York Immigration Coalition. “We are actively fighting these measures.”
In August, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that it would end all door-to-door outreach by September 30, one month sooner than originally planned. Since then, a federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order to temporarily halt the government’s efforts to wind down operations for the count. A court hearing on the issue will take place on September 17.
The Trump administration also released a policy memo calling for undocumented immigrants to be excluded from the apportionment base following the census. That, too, has been struck down in the courts.
On September 10, a three-judge court ruled that the president’s memo excluding undocumented immigrants was unlawful.
“President Trump’s repeated attempts to hinder, impair and prejudice an accurate census and the subsequent apportionment have failed once again,” said Attorney General Letitia James, who led a coalition of states and cities in the lawsuit. “The courts have ruled in our favor on every census matter in the last two years and continually reject President Trump’s unlawful efforts to manipulate the census for political purposes.
“We cannot allow the White House’s constant fear-mongering and xenophobia to stop us from being counted,” she added. “We urge everyone to fill out the census, if they have not already, and we will continue to take every legal action available to ensure all communities are counted.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, praised the federal court’s ruling.
“Now that the court has ruled, Republicans must finally agree to extend the statutory deadlines and let the Census Bureau do its job of conducting a complete and accurate count of every person in the United States,” she said in a statement.
Anand, who noted that NYIC was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, also echoed the call for Congress to pass legislation extending the deadline for when census data needs to be delivered to Congress.
Maloney’s bill would not only extend the deadline for the Census Bureau to provide complete results of the enumeration to Congress by next April, but would also extend door-to-door follow-up outreach to October 30.
“If people want to do something else to help the census,” Anand said, “then they need to be on the phone and writing letters to their senators and representatives to say they want to pass legislation to make sure that the census is extended accordingly.”
Amit Singh Bagga, deputy director of NYC Census 2020, broke down census response rates by neighborhood. He noted that historically African-American and Afro-Caribbean communities that were significantly undercounted in the past have now surpassed their 2010 Census rates.
Prospect Lefferts Gardens, for example, is now more than 11 percentage points ahead of where it was in 2010. Flatbush is also ahead by 11 percent. Other neighborhoods include Crown Heights at 9.4 percent, Flatlands at 5 percent and Prospect Heights at 2.5 percent.
“This does not happen by accident,” Bagga said. “This happens when New Yorkers come together, educate, organize, mobilize and get things done.”
Other Brooklyn neighborhoods are still struggling with self-response rates. Cypress Hills has a rate of just 44.4 percent and Borough Park is at 45.4 percent. Mapleton has responded at a 45.6 percent rate, while Manhattan Beach is at 46.1 percent.
Some communities have actually regressed from 2010. Brooklyn Heights, for example, had a self-response rate of 75 percent a decade ago, but is down to 64 percent. Bagga said neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn and Cobble Hill may have residents who temporarily relocated outside of the city during the pandemic.
He urged them to fill out the census online using their New York City address.
“There is no greater, simpler or easier task to demonstrate your pride as a New Yorker and do your part,” he said.
Bagga also noted that tens of thousands of New Yorkers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, live in basement apartments in multi-family homes. While many of those apartments are legal, the large majority of them are not.
Both tenants and landlords of those basement apartments should know that census information does not come back to the city or agencies like the Department of Buildings (DOB), Bagga said.
“It is critical that if you are living in a basement unit that you fill out the census,” he said. “You can use your full address and no harm will come to you.”
In Queens, the deputy director of NYC Census 2020 said he’s seen a “tremendously positive increase” in the borough’s self-response rate in the last six weeks. Queens is now tied with Manhattan for second place out of the five boroughs with a rate of 59.9 percent.
“This is truly a testament to the incredible amount of organizing that’s been done across the entire borough,” Bagga said. “We have many organizations that we have funded to the tune of $19 million that are organizing their communities in the languages that they speak.”
Groups like DRUM and Chhaya CDC are organizing in South Asian communities, Make the Road New York in Latinx communities, Minkwon Center for Community Action in Flushing and faith-based groups in African-American communities, Bagga said.
Neighborhoods that have a high self-response rate include Oakland Gardens, Fresh Meadows, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Sunnyside and parts of Astoria.
Bagga noted that there are still pockets that need more outreachp, like Corona and Richmond Hill, which have rates of just about 45 percent. Corona is made up largely of Central and South American populations, while Richmond Hill has a large Punjabi Sikh and Indo-Caribbean communities.
Despite their low-response rates, Bagga said the amount of organizing and advertising put into neighborhoods like Richmond Hill has made a difference. In March, the southeast Queens neighborhood had a self-response rate in the lower 30 percent range.
He said census tracts around the Sikh temple in the neighborhood, as well as commercial corridors where Punjabi and Sikh residents congregate, have seen increases of between 6 and 12 percent over the last few months.
Bagga attributed part of that increase to a consistent advertising effort, over many months, in languages like Punjabi, Bangla, Hindi and Urdu.
“This type of investment is really what’s required,” he said. “This is the first time the city has done something like this.
“What we’ve done now is built a really strong foundation that we can now build into the future,” Bagga added. “That’s a result of the work the city and organizations have done.”
That type of success, in which the city provides resources to local organizations to speak neighbor to neighbor, has also been replicated in southeast Queens communities like Springfield Gardens, Laurelton and Rosedale, as well as in the Bronx.
Where the city has struggled, Bagga said, is in immigrant communities, largely due to Trump’s rhetoric and repeated attempts to “exclude, demean and remove immigrants from the census.’
“We know our community organizations and partners across the city remain undeterred,” Bagga said. “We will keep fighting until September 30 to make sure every single New Yorker is counted.”
Earlier that day in Flushing, Councilman Peter Koo joined Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) at the ICNA Relief food pantry to help community members fill out the census during a weekly food distribution event.
Koo noted that the Flushing-based food pantry is one of many in the community that would benefit from a full and accurate census count.
“Filling out the census will ensure the rights and needs of every person is counted when our government determines what funding will go to policies, programs and services,” he said in a statement.
Jennifer Sun and Thomas Yu, co-executive directors of AAFE, also said in a statement that a complete count is important for communities hoping to overcome the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is the key to delivering adequate government resources for Flushing,” they said, “and other immigrant communities that have been historically overlooked.”