In costly undercount, only 48% in Brickell file 2010 census
By Meena Rupani
Only 48% of Brickell area residents returned federal census forms in time to be counted by the June 14 cutoff, far below a national 68% average and trailing the 2000 census return rate of 66% in Brickell.
Brickell lagged behind such other City of Miami neighborhoods as Coconut Grove, with 58% of forms returned, and Little Havana, at 64%, said Steven Hill, Miami South census office manager.
That undercount could cost local government millions a year in future federal funding.
Every 10 years the U.S. Census determines how many people live in the nation. Its figures also control how the federal government allocates money locally to improve hospitals, schools and other institutions based on the people counted.
Census workers in the field faced numerous problems trying to get an accurate account of Brickell residents, Mr. Hill said.
"Even as we faced closed doors, locked gates, frustrated property managers and even legal representatives from condo boards, we never entertained the ideal of giving up on Brickell or any other neighborhood," Mr. Hill said.
"Maybe with the awareness and the publicity and pleas from all parties involved" after a 39% return was reported in April, "respondents got motivated to send back their questionnaires," Mr. Hill said.
For example, a March to the Mailbox campaign sent many census workers to the streets encouraging residents to mail their census forms.
However, Mr. Hill said, after April 20 all forms that were returned still required a visit from a census taker.
That proved a challenge for census workers in Brickell, as 22,079 housing units have been built since the 2000 census and 15,069 of those have been sold by the developers, according to a residential occupancy and closing study by Goodwin Consulting.
Three Brickell Bay Drive buildings in particular have 200 units still uncounted for: Jade, where 50% of units returned forms; The Mark, just 25%; and the Yacht Club, with not a single census form returned.
The "close out procedure" from the U.S. Census states that if district enumeration has reached 95%, the remaining units may receive only one more visit from census workers. If no more information is given by residents of those units they remain uncounted.
"We have completed the enumeration of the Miami South's office boundaries that spans from the Miami River South to Bird Road, Key Biscayne west to the Palmetto in accordance with U.S. Census policies and procedures," Mr. Hill said.
In April, he cited a potential loss of $10 million in federal funding annually because of the unreturned forms from Brickell.
"During the enumeration we discovered thousands of vacant units that have to be accounted for in our next operation, but the financial loss is considerably lower than originally discussed," he said last week. "We do not have the official numbers to provide accurate figures at this time."
As Mr. Hill cited low response, management companies of various Brickell condo buildings complained about census workers.
Natalie Brown, Brickell Homeowners Association communications director, said census teams showed up with no warning at condos so management companies weren't staffed properly to assist them. This could have been resolved, she said, by calling management ahead of time. In addition, she said, census teams showed up midday when no one was home.
She detailed efforts of the homeowners association.
"We shared our membership contact lists of property managers and board members with [City of Miami] Commissioner Marc Sarnoff so he could contact condo associations directly. Also, we sent out an e-blast to all property managers and board members at buildings asking them to encourage residents to complete the forms."
Mr. Hill said his team at the Miami South office hope to engage the community more next time around, in 2020.
"My hope for the future census will be to involve the community more in the process from beginning to end," he said.
"Everyone, no matter their walk of life or location, should be involved with the census. It will truly be the only way to get an accurate snapshot of our country."