The Latino Action Network is a grassroots organization composed of individuals and organizations that are committed to engaging in collective action at the local, state and national levels in order to advance the equitable inclusion of the diverse Latino communities in all aspects of United States society.

Monday, April 29, 2019

2020 census concerns in Camden — where ‘thousands’ avoided 2010 count — reflect worries nationwide

(LAN’s Jesselly De La Cruz was quoted in this article, which originally appeared on, on the 2020 Census and the importance of counting everyone)
Protesters in DC
Protestors at the Supreme Court in Washington

Camden’s population a decade ago was 77,344, according to the 2010 census. But Mayor Francisco Moran knows that wasn’t right.

"I can tell you there are thousands of folks who have not allowed themselves to be counted,” he said at a forum Wednesday night in Camden, where local residents and statewide nonprofit groups expressed concerns about the census, which begins next March.

Communities across the country are working to make sure all their residents are counted, since population determines how the federal government distributes hundreds of billions of dollars to local governments, how voting districts are drawn, and how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House.

Local governments have formed commissions to explain the importance of filling out questionnaires and reach populations that are traditionally undercounted.

At the New Jersey Complete Count Commission’s last scheduled meeting of the year Wednesday, residents raised questions that echoed concerns expressed throughout the country. They included:

What role will the proposed citizenship question play?

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments as it decides whether the 2020 census can ask for residents’ citizenship status. The court’s conservative majority seemed willing to defer to the Trump administration’s plan to do so.

Dozens of state and local governments and the Census Bureau believe the citizenship question could deter millions of people, especially immigrants, from answering the questionnaires. That would depress population counts and diminish the political power and funding of local governments, particularly those with large immigrant populations.

Federal judges in Maryland, California, and New York — where Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Philadelphia joined others in suing the Trump administration — have ruled against the addition of the question.

The Trump administration argues that the question is necessary to know how many residents are citizens.

Jesselly De La Cruz, executive director of the Latino Action Network Foundation, asked that state and local governments focus on earning the confidence of communities shaken by the prospect of the citizenship question. The Census Bureau has emphasized that federal law prohibits it from sharing personal information it collects.

Local governments are recruiting “trusted community leaders” to persuade residents to fill out census forms.

Regardless of whether the question shows up on forms next year, Census Bureau employees have said damage already has been done in terms of creating a climate of mistrust around the census.

Will the resources be available?

Peter Chen, policy counsel at Newark, N.J.-based Advocates for Children of New Jersey, noted that other states have already distributed millions of dollars to nonprofits for census outreach in their communities. He urged New Jersey to quickly get money to organizations.

"This is going to require an enormous effort,” Chen said.

Two bills introduced in the Senate and Assembly in February ask for $9 million for New Jersey groups to help get residents counted.

How will the Census Bureau reach hard-to-count communities?

Each decennial census undercounts certain populations, such as young children whom adults may not think to include, people who move often, people who are homeless, people living in poverty, and racial and ethnic minorities.

Governments across the country have been working on strategies to persuade hard-to-count populations to fill out their questionnaires. Those plans include working with faith and community leaders, translating information into many languages, collaborating with schools to teach students and parents about the census, and opening census offices in areas where participation in the past was low.

For example, in one census tract in Camden, less than one-third of residents filled out their forms in 2010. So they’re getting special attention.

Moran, Camden’s mayor, said an accurate count in Camden “is paramount to us.”

"The strain on services in the city is tough for us when we have limited resources,” he said.

Who will do the counting?

The Census Bureau plans to hire from 400,000 to 450,000 census takers to follow up with people who do not fill out their questionnaires.

Cheryl Bolden, a supervisory partnership specialist for the Census Bureau, reassured New Jersey Complete Count commissioners and residents that the bureau is hiring people to work in their own neighborhoods for these positions.

"We are totally and completely dependent upon local involvement,” she said.

Most of the bureau’s job fairs have been in North Jersey, but Bolden said more will be coming to South Jersey.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Control gentrification in Jersey City now, community leaders say. Residents are being pushed out of their homes.

(This Op-ed originally appeared on on 4/18/19)

Jersey City skyscrapers
Long-time residents of Jersey City are being pushed out

By Richard Smith and Christian Estevez
With skyrocketing rents outpacing what most ordinary people can afford, Jersey City should be coming to terms with the fact that its residents are being priced out and forced out.

Developers who are making unfathomable amounts of money building homes for wealthy new residents have no incentive to solve this problem. It is time for Mayor Steven Fulop and the City Council to adopt an effective policy that requires developers to make at least 20 percent of new homes affordable as a way to curb the gentrification that is emptying Jersey City of longtime residents. In the case of city-owned land, or when public subsidies are used, the percent should go above 20 percent.

For decades, our state’s urban cores suffered from disinvestment, while wealthy suburban communities boomed. This disparity, driven by many towns’ exclusionary zoning laws, has helped make New Jersey one of the most racially and economically segregated states in the country.

As New Jersey’s urban communities revitalize, working families and communities of color in places like Jersey City are at the losing end of a real estate market that pursues profits over fairness and high rents over fair rents.

After living in Jersey City through challenging decades of disinvestment, lower-income African American and Latino families are being particularly threatened with displacement as investment floods in.

While we welcome additional investment in New Jersey’s cities, it must not come at the cost of displacement and homelessness. Our elected officials have an obligation to prevent the negative impacts that rapid gentrification has on our state’s most vulnerable communities.

Jersey City’s elected leaders must act – or they risk turning the city into an exclusive enclave of the rich and powerful.

It is irresponsible that Jersey City has added thousands of new apartments in recent years, rewarding developers with lucrative density increases, without putting inclusionary zoning requirements in place to protect lower-income families – as permitted under state law.

Left to their own devices, powerful developers will build housing for people earning over $100,000 annually and call these units “affordable.”

But that is not where the greatest need is.

Jersey City must target new affordable housing requirements to protect families earning as little as $20,000 to $45,000 per year – where the need is greatest.

And officials must prevent new requirements from being undermined by loopholes that would allow developers to wriggle out of their affordable housing requirements.

An effective fair housing policy must focus on housing – not be subverted as a tool to meet other goals while allowing gentrification to take over the city.

Mayor Fulop’s press releases and social media posts in recent years have claimed that his administration is going to address this issue. Most recently, the mayor wrote on social media last November that “Jersey City will be enacting an inclusionary zoning ordinance like many other major cities. … It is very close to becoming reality and will be a huge benefit to keeping Jersey City a special mixed-income community.”

But to date, there has been no real progress. While the mayor’s promises go unmet, developers are making Jersey City a “special” community for New York transplants who think nothing of paying $1 million for a condo – at the expense of the city’s African-American and Latino residents.

Indeed, while Jersey City stands still, other nearby cities have put in place protections for longtime residents and adopted equitable housing policies, including Hoboken, Newark and Union City. These ordinances require homes to be affordable at the lowest possible ranges.

Hoboken is even in the process of strengthening its affordable housing ordinance.
These gentrifying communities have benefited from the leadership of mayors like Dawn Zimmer, Ravinder Bhalla, Ras Baraka, and Brian Stack. Yet in the face of incredible progress, Jersey City, which has the greatest potential and the highest need, lags behind.

The time for Jersey City to adopt an effective housing policy has arrived.
We urge Mayor Fulop and the City Council to do what should have been done long ago: Adopt an inclusionary zoning ordinance that ensures that all residents of Jersey 

City benefit from the private market interest in the city. The ordinance should require all developments to have a minimum of 20 percent affordable housing. No buyouts, no loopholes, and no scams.

We need legislation that forces developers to address the negative consequences of gentrification. And we need it now.

Christian Estevez is president of the Latino Action Network and Richard Smith is president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference.