Census count could significantly affect city’s funds

New homeowner Joshua McGee has benefitted from the HUD-financed Tenants to Homeowners program, which is funded based on census results. He was pictured in March.

Need a job?

It’s never too late to apply for a temporary job with the 2010 Census. The hiring process is ongoing because people quit for various reasons throughout the two-year process.
The pay ranges between $14 and $14.50 per hour and can be full- or part-time. To apply, call (866) 861-2010.

Preparations for Census Day — April 1, 2010 — are under way.

The task of counting every person residing in the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. island territories is no small feat. The U.S. Census Bureau will hire 1.4 million workers nationwide to locate, count and categorize each of the nation’s residents.

“It’s a lengthy and involved operation,” said Margaret Pettit, information services assistant in the Census Bureau’s Kansas City, Kan., office.

A Census Bureau office in Topeka opened in the fall and recently hired the 1,120 full-time workers who would be needed this spring and summer in Kansas. These workers are beginning to hit the streets to obtain an address list, so the census forms can be sent in February and March. There were about 25 employees hired in Douglas County.

“They will be going door to door and making sure that it still is a residence,” said Nancee Torkelson, manager of the Census Bureau office in Topeka.

A lot happens in 10 years — everything from tornadoes and fires to construction of new houses.

Billions at stake

And it is extremely important to count everyone. Census data is used to apportion seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and to redistrict state legislatures. It also directly affects how more than $300 billion per year in federal and state funding is allocated to communities for neighborhood improvements, public health, education and transportation.

The money trickles down to help programs such as Lawrence’s Community Development Block program and Home Investment Partnerships program. Together, the programs received $1.4 million in federal money last year.

Margene Swarts, assistant director of planning and development services, said the Community Development Block program provides loans to help with emergency repairs or to replace furnaces. It funds several social service agencies such as the Lawrence Community Shelter, Salvation Army and Housing and Credit Counseling. It also helps individuals who are threatened with eviction or having their utilities shut off. The program replaces lights in parks and helps fill the gaps in sidewalks.

“There are a lot of things you can do with the CVBG program in terms of infrastructure and housing and neighborhood revitalization,” Swarts said.

The Home Investment Partnerships program combines efforts with the Douglas County Authority to provide rental assistance for low-income renters. It also helps first-time homebuyers and works with the Tenants to Homeowners organization.

Tenants to Homeowners recently finished building 11 affordable homes in East Lawrence. The homes, worth between $140,000 and $160,000, were sold for about $90,000.

“The project was a great example of use of federal funds,” said Rebecca Buford, executive director of Tenants to Homeowners.

Census data also helps county and city planners.

“It really helps to tell us where the city is growing and how it is growing,” said Amy Brown, long-range planner. “It’s important to look at those median-family incomes, household size, how much is owner and how much is renter. That information can help us plan for the long-term future of the city.”

According to the 2000 census, Lawrence had a population of 80,098. The city of Lawrence does its own population estimates and is predicting a population of between 88,961 and 99,013 for 2010. Long-range estimates call for continued growth through 2030.

“After this 2010 census, we will be looking at updating our projections for 2020, 2030, 2040 and probably even put out some for 2050,” Brown said. “We are looking forward to those updated numbers, definitely.”

Changes afoot

The 2010 census forms will be a short-form only census and will count all residents as well as ask for name, sex, age, date of birth, race, ethnicity, relationship and housing tenure. So it should only take a few minutes to complete. In the past, one in six households received a long form that contained about 50 questions.

“It was a political decision,” said Xan Wedel, a researcher and census expert at Kansas University’s Institute for Policy and Social Research. “A lot of people in 2000 and in 1990 thought the government was becoming too intrusive in asking those detailed questions.”

Now, the American Community Survey collects data on long-form topics such as veteran status, disability, income and education. It provides the data annually instead of every 10 years.

Wedel said KU uses data from both surveys for research.

In 2000, only 71 percent of Lawrence residents filled out their forms. That was in line with 72 percent of Douglas County residents, 71 percent of Kansans and 67 percent of the nation.

“It is very important that everyone fill out their 2010 census form,” Wedel said. “It will be super-easy this time, and it is just highly important. It helps maintain our representatives in Congress. It helps us keep our fair share of federal funding and in these economic times, it’s even more important for that.”

Also, it is required by law.