Ahead of 2020 census, Houston City Council considers ramping up outreach efforts

Houston City Council discussed implications of the 2020 US Census May 1.

Houston City Council discussed implications of the 2020 US Census May 1.

Leading up to the 2020 United States Census, some Houston City Council Members say that getting an accurate headcount for the city’s population may be more difficult than in years past and federal dollars are on the line.

"Every city throughout the United States is ramping up to make sure that they identify and count every person within their domain,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Houston City Council Members discussed two concerns May 1 about new aspects of the Census Bureau's data collection process.

Council Members debated whether to approve an allocation of $650,000 from the city’s Fiscal Year 2019-20 general fund for the first part of a two-phase outreach plan that includes advertising and community engagement efforts to encourage participation in the census. The vote was postponed by Council Members Robert Gallegos and Dwight Boykins, who both said they wanted further explanation of the strategies behind the plan.

A new question requiring respondents to record their citizenship status is set to be challenged in the US Supreme Court, but if it makes it onto the survey, District I Council Member Robert Gallegos, whose district covers parts of East Downtown and Northeast Houston, said it will deter respondents from answering.

“We have a president that's trying to undercut the Hispanic community and undercount the Hispanic community in regards to placing the citizenship question [on the survey], which is going to affect the city of Houston,” Gallegos said.

If the population is undercounted in the data that is only collected every 10 years, Houston stands to miss out on $1,500 of federal funding per resident and could affect representation in state and federal government, Turner said.

“This will impact the homelessness situation, the dollars that we get,” Turner said. “This will affect the education system, this will impact our infrastructure ... a low count means that dollars that we should have been receiving, we won't get."

In another change to the process, which begins in April 2020, surveys will be administered digitally for the first time according to the 2020 Census Operational Plan. A move to digital response will maker replying to the survey easier for some, but harder for others, said District H Council Member Karla Cisneros, whose district includes the Near Northside and East End areas.

“A lot of the communities I represent, they don't have computers at home or wi-fi at home,” Cisneros said. “It's a problem.”

According to the census plan, some areas with low internet connectivity or low likelihood of respondents replying electronically will receive paper surveys. The Census Bureau will also develop strategies to follow up on nonrespondents in person and by mail, according to the plan.

“Expenditure or investment”

Council Members Mike Knox, Brenda Stardig and Dwigth Boykins voiced concerns about using money from the city’s FY 2019-20 general fund for the outreach efforts.

Stardig said she did not oppose funding the outreach efforts all together however, she said she wondered if waiting until the start of the new fiscal year July 1 would be more fiscally responsible while the city deals with the aftermath of issuing lay off notices for municipal workers and firefighters that were justified as an effort to fund Proposition B.’s voter-mandated pay raises for the Houston Fire Department

“Our current employee situation is just as critical and important to me today as the future revenue from the chance of us convincing people to sign up for the census is,” she said.

In response to a similar comment from Boykins who also mentioned the city’s recent layoffs as a reason to thoroughly vet general fund expenditures, Gallegos said equating the two issues was irresponsible.

“I’m ashamed that you’d even try to relate this to Prop B.” Gallegos said.

District G Council Member Greg Travis, whose district covers River Oaks and parts of Uptown, said while he has concerns about general fund expenditures, he viewed the outreach efforts as an investment with promising returns.

“We have to look at it in one of two ways, is it an expenditure or is in an investment. ... If we execute it right, if we do the things we should do, this will be worth the money we're spending because it will return something,” Travis said. “It won't be a direct return per say but it will be an in-direct, profit-making expenditure.”

City Council will take up the item again on May 8.

Editor's note: this post has been updated for clarity.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


ribbon cutting
Nearly $400M project to boost Houston-area water supply by up to 500M gallons a day

The project has been in development for over 50 years and broke ground in 2017.

Following Hurricane Harvey, debris lined the streets in many parts of Harris County. (Danica Lloyd/Community Impact Newspaper)
After Department of Housing and Urban Development denies request, Texas General Land Office drafting plan to subaward Harris County $750M for flood mitigation

The Texas General Land Office now plans to subaward Harris County flood mitigation funding after the county was left out of recent Hurricane Harvey relief funds.

Harris County Pets facilitates pet adoptions, foster placements and more. (Courtesy Harris County Pets)
Harris County Pets temporarily waives adoption fees to control increase of population

Harris County Pets has exceeded its capacity to house its growing pet population, officials said.

West Elm opens a new Houston location in Rice Village on June 17. (Courtesy West Elm)
Home decor company West Elm opens in Rice Village June 17

West Elm will open at the former location of Urban Outfitters.

Americans spent 44% more shopping on websites, including Amazon, in 2020 than in 2019. (Courtesy Amazon)
Surge in online shopping strains Houston’s distribution channels

Online spending in the U.S. was up 44% from 2019 to 2020, and transportation expert Bill Eisele said this uptick has put a strain on the region’s transportation system.

According to county officials, 40% of the $125 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Harvey took place within Harris County. (Shawn Arrajj/Community Impact Newspaper)
Texas General Land Office says it is 'not feasible' to request $750M in federal flood aid within 30 days

Houston-area officials ask for 30-day-dealine on the Texas General Land Office's formal request for $750 million in federal flood aid funding, but GLO says it is not possible.

Home decor brand CB2's new location in Rice Village will offer curated home furnishings and accessories. (Courtesy CB2)
Home decor brand CB2 opens June 18 in Rice Village

Rice Village will soon welcome a new modern home and decor brand into its district.

Texas Central has signed a $16 billion contract with Webuild to lead the civil construction team that will build the train. (Rendering courtesy Texas Central)
Texas Central signs $16B construction contract for high-speed rail project

Texas Central could be one step closer to starting construction.

Russ Poppe, the Harris County Flood Control District executive director, will officially step down July 2 after nearly fifteen years in the position. (Courtesy Harris County Flood Control District)
Executive Director Russ Poppe announces resignation from Harris County Flood Control District

Harris County Flood Control District Executive Director Russ Poppe announced his resignation June 11.

Robert Mock headshot
Houston names new emergency center director

The center manages 911 calls and other emergency communications.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas issued a call for Texans to conserve energy June 14. (Iain Oldman/Community Impact Newspaper)
ERCOT asks Texans to conserve energy with generation outages 2.5 times higher than normal

"This is unusual for this early in the summer season," said Woody Rickerson, ERCOT vice president of grid planning and operations, in a news release.