City Hall challenges census numbers

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration is challenging U.S. census numbers that show Baltimore is shrinking, arguing the city actually has 30,000 more residents than reported.

If the city wins its challenge — in which it argues that census workers missed counting 15,635 housing units — it means Baltimore's population has held steady since 2000, not dropped significantly. And that could mean the city would receive $87 million more in federal funding, city planning officials said.

Baltimore's effort comes as the mayor is waging a campaign to reverse decades of population loss and attract 10,000 families in the next decade.

Thomas J. Stosur, the city's planning director, said it's "very uncommon" for federal officials to acknowledge substantial changes to their count, but said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the appeal.

"We've had consistent success in the past challenging some of the annual estimates," he said. "We're hoping we've built up some credibility. We're hoping for the best with this mission."

Census officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The city's demographer, Travis Pate, said the challenge is based on an analysis of housing data that was reviewed by the Abell Foundation and the Baltimore Neighborhood Collaborative. The two groups cross-referenced data and walked around the city checking residences, he said.

City officials have filed a formal challenge to the 2010 census numbers and are in the process of working on a challenge to 2011 estimates.

Rawlings-Blake brought up the appeal during a Tuesday morning meeting in Mount Vernon with the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, whom she briefed on her vision to grow the city's population. She noted that Johns Hopkins Hospital had slipped to No. 2 for the first time in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of the nation's hospitals.

"It's the same conversation we had with the census," the mayor said. "I'm like, 'I demand a recount.'"

Baltimore lost about 30,000 residents between 2000 and 2010, going from 651,154 to 620,961, according to the Census Bureau.

In June, the Census Bureau estimated another loss of about 1,500 residents, down to 619,493, at a time when many other big cities, such as Philadelphia, Washington and Atlanta, showed growth.

Baltimore has been losing population since World War II, census data show. Baltimore was the 10th biggest U.S. city in terms of population in 1980, but now ranks 24th. The populations of Boston, Seattle and Denver all surpassed Baltimore's total during the 15-month period covered in the June report. The District of Columbia is 1,500 people shy of overtaking Baltimore in population.

Elizabeth E. Harber, a program officer with the Abell Foundation, said she immediately questioned the census numbers. Similar cities were growing. Baltimore's suburbs were growing. All the time, she saw people moving into city neighborhoods.

"It didn't match up to what we were seeing on the ground," Harber said.

Laurie Latuda, of the Goldseker Foundation, which has studied the city's population trends, agreed.

"It used to be assumed that you would move out of Baltimore once your kids were old enough to go to school," she said. "It's not assumed anymore."

A Goldseker study showed some city neighborhoods are experiencing a boom, including the downtown area, which has grown population by 35 percent since 2000. The Patterson Park area has grown by about 19 percent, it found.

Over 10 years, a city resident on average is worth about $2,900 in federal funds for entitlement programs, such as foster care and health care, Stosur said.

Pate said he anticipates the Census Bureau will respond to the city's challenge within the next month or two. He said he believes the city's case is strong, clearly identifying houses the Census Bureau believed were vacant or missed for other reasons. Even so, he noted that other cities have had strong appeals that were shot down.

"It's more common to file it than it is to get a very positive result from the challenge," he said.

However the challenge is resolved, the mayor will use the final number as her baseline from which to begin her goal of gaining 10,000 families in Baltimore, said her spokesman Ian Brennan.

Rawlings-Blake told the audience Tuesday that the city's growth is her top priority.

"I set that goal to challenge agencies in my administration, to challenge the way we think about Baltimore," she said. "We have been a city that has lost population for too long. While it's been frustrating, there's never been a focus on turning the tide, turning that back around."

She also told the grantmakers that she encouraged various communities within Baltimore, including immigrant and gay and lesbian communities, to own a piece of the 10,000 goal and pledge to grow their populations by 500 or 1,000 people.

"The more, the merrier," the mayor said.

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