Lansing considers possible challenge to latest census results

Schor ‘pissed’ after census charts population decline

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Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said he was “pissed off” after the latest decennial U.S. Census results tracked a 1.8% population decline in the city of Lansing between 2010 and 2020. And now city officials are contemplating challenging those results as a possible undercount.

“We’re certainly going to dig deep into this. We’ve already had an initial meeting. Any official challenges can begin in January,” Schor said. “The results were surprising. I know that our housing market is strong. I know we’ve seen new housing throughout the city, and we want to be able to capture every dollar we can. So, we’re going to pull together some metrics and if we have enough there to challenge the results, then we’re going to be challenging them.”

While Ingham and Eaton counties tracked modest population growth over the last decade, the city of Lansing reportedly lost 1.8% of its population, declining from 114,297 residents in 2010 to 112,644 in 2020 — a net loss of about 1,700 residents, according to the latest census data.

And that statistic just isn’t sitting right with Schor and his catchphrase: “Lansing’s time is now.”

In an interview, the mayor suggested that an onslaught of new residential development over the last few years should’ve led to population growth — not a decline. He also pointed blame toward the Trump administration, which last year effectively cut short the latest census count about a month before it was scheduled to be fully completed in October.

“Anecdotally, we feel like we were undercounted,” Schor said. “The census also shorted us by a full month and we had people who were still out there counting. The fact that the Trump administration shut it down a month early was disappointing to everybody. I do think that we were undercounted because of that, and that pisses me off. I thought it was wrong and I still do.”

An accurate decennial census count can mean a lot for municipalities like the city of Lansing. In addition to driving the apportionment and redistricting processes at the state level, those trends in population growth help dictate how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding — including grants awards — will be spent by the U.S. government every year for the next decade.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the results also inform how federal funding is allocated to more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, block grant programs for community mental health services and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP.

The results also help ensure that communities get their fair share for schools, hospitals, roads and public works based on the number of residents that benefit from those public services. They can also help private businesses decide which cities are most worthy of continued investment.

Schor isn’t sure whether 1,700 fewer residents will make or break the city’s bank, but he isn’t interested in blindly taking the risk without a fight. Part of his administration’s ongoing analysis will determine whether the city of Lansing actually stands to lose any federal funds, he said.

“It can be very difficult to pull off a successful census challenge. We’re going to look at the metrics and see. If we only lost 1,000 people, then it’s not huge, but every person counts,” Schor said. “Some of this is based on dollars per person, so we want to capture all that we can.”

The U.S. Census Bureau allows individual local, state and tribal municipalities to challenge its results by filing a formal petition, complete with certain pieces of data to corroborate the claims. Schor said Lansing won’t be able to submit any possible challenge requests until early January.

He said the process, however, is a notoriously difficult feat to pull off. Only 239 municipalities challenged the results of the 2010 census. Only 188 of them were approved, records showed.

“People were so concerned about the coronavirus that they weren’t out and about. Maybe they didn’t fill out the survey because they didn’t get it in the mail. People who were normally knocking doors either weren’t knocking or people weren’t answering because it was a pandemic. We were told to stay home and not talk to people.” Schor said. “It’s frustrating.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan has also voiced similar plans to challenge the latest results by pursuing “legal remedies to get Detroit an accurate count,” reports the Detroit Free Press. Among his strongest arguments: the census tracked 254,000 occupied households in Detroit while DTE instead reported nearly 280,000 residential households paying electric bills.

Schor said his administration is actively working with the Lansing Board of Water & Light to examine whether Lansing is dealing with a similar trend. Apartment complexes and multi-family housing wired to a single meter, however, could make it difficult to generate meaningful trends.

“That one is challenging because a lot of times meters don’t reflect the number of people who are living there, especially at an apartment,” Schor added. “We have to get all the numbers together and figure out if it’s a legitimate challenge. There’s just no way we lost 1,000 people.”

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