OP-ED By Destiny Hamilton, Jamaica Queens NAACP

Every decade since 1940, New York has lost at least one congressional seat due to an undercount in the decennial census. The census is a survey taken every ten years to count the United States population. The information collected is used to determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, and how much federal funding each state will receive.

Crowned “The Melting Pot,” New York City is one of the most diverse places in the world. There are roughly 8.6 million residents in NYC and yet every decade, only a little over half of those individuals are actually counted in the census. This year the New York City Council and the City University of New York (CUNY) has allocated $19 million to community-based organizations across the five boroughs to mobilize and educate the community about the census. This funding is known as the Complete Count Fund. No other city in the nation has allocated such a large amount of funding towards census related work. The goal of the Complete Count Fund is to increase the self-response rate for the 2020 Census to ensure that every person residing in New York is accurately counted.

In December 2020, Mayor DeBlasio and the New York City Council announced more than 150 awardees of the Complete Count Fund. Each awardee received from $15,000 to $250,000 to engage in direct mobilization around the Census in their neighborhoods. The awardees and volunteers are known as Neighborhood Organizing Census Committees (NOCC). The organizations were strategically chosen to serve the most hard-to-count neighborhoods in the five boroughs.

The NAACP Metropolitan Council of Branches, under the leadership of Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, is amongst the many organizations to receive funding. Prior to receiving the funding, the New York State Conference was already organizing for the Census to serve their Civic Engagement Game Changer. Some of their Census engagement initiatives include hosting Census information sessions at local NAACP branches, tabling at events, and hosting workshops about the importance of the Census. Other awardees include, but are not limited to, LIFE Camp Inc., Rockaway Youth Task Force, African Communities Together, and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

New York City must overcome many adversities to increase the Census count this year. The idea of strangers going into communities to solicit personal information evokes fear for many residents. For the Black community, this fear stems from millenniums of violence and deception caused by racism and hatred. From slavery to the Jim Crow era, the United States government has proved time and time again that they are capable of manipulating Black people. Although social conditions for Black people have somewhat improved, there are still systems of oppression such as mass incarceration and police brutality that continue to evoke fear for black and brown people and make them hesitant to willingly share personal information.

Under the Trump administration, deportation has surged in New York City by 150%. Immigrations and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raids in the city have also significantly increased. These raids and deportation efforts target immigrants of color in mostly Latinx communities. Once taken by ICE, the families are then placed in detention camps where they wait to face a judge and most likely be deported. Many undocumented immigrants come to the United States to live a better life, and they do not want to sacrifice by giving out personal information to unfamiliar faces.

Many individuals in New York City are also subleasing apartments. Due to family dynamics, there are more people living in their houses than stated on the lease. This situation causes conflict because those individuals do not want to fill out the Census, fearing that they will be evicted and forced to search for a home during a time where New York City rent is at its highest ever.

These struggles prove why a highly diverse group of individuals are needed to execute the groundwork and persuade unique individuals in New York’s historically undercounted neighborhoods to fill out the Census. The people from NOCCs live in and speak the languages of the communities they are based in. Therefore, they have the best ability to connect to individuals on a personal level in order to overcome the adversities that NOCCs have to educate the community about the Census. There are only 10 questions asked in the Census, and under Title 13, your information is not allowed to be shared with anyone. This includes ICE, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), and the New York Police Department (NYPD). If information is shared, it would result in a fine up to $250,000 and jail time.

Now that you know about New York City’s efforts to ensure a Complete Count, let’s spread the word about the Census to others so NYC can move on up!!! #NYCcounts.