Brookhaven plans to take a proactive attitude when it comes to counting residents as part of the 2020 census, including specific outreach efforts to ensure immigrants living along Buford Highway are included in the population count. It’s the first Census for the city since its founding just over six years ago.

The City Council and administrators discussed at its Feb. 16 retreat how they intend to work with organizations such as the Latin American Association, the Center for Pan Asian Community Services and Los Vecinos de Buford Highway as well as churches and other social organizations to ensure those living in apartments regardless of immigration status are counted.

City Councilmember Linley Jones asked how the city could be sensitive given the current anti-immigrant political climate. City officials said they believe Buford Highway residents have been severely undercounted for many years due to the fear of being deported.

That’s the reason for the city to be proactive, said City Manager Christian Sigman. Ideas include recruiting apartment captains to help ensure residents are counted, he said. No specific outreach plans have been formally laid out yet, however.

The census, required by the U.S. Constitution, takes place every 10 years. The counting of every person in the country determines political representation at the state and federal levels and determines the allocation of public money to such entities as municipalities and schools. It also shows if the country is becoming older or younger, richer or poorer, and other demographics that give an overall picture of who the U.S. is.

As the first census count for Brookhaven, ensuring as many people who are living in the city are counted is crucial to ensure the city receives an equitable shake at public resources, Mayor John Ernst said.

“This is the key to the lifeblood of the city … is to count all the people,” he said at the retreat.

Buford Highway is the most-dense per acre in Brookhaven and DeKalb County, Sigman said in an interview. “That’s a lot of people to count and chances are given the national climate there is an undercount,” he said. “We don’t care if they are citizens or not.”

One area immigrant activists are voicing concern about is the need for affordable housing in Brookhaven. Data pulled from census tracts – a very small, specific area of a municipality – are key in determining federal funding and determining average median incomes when it comes to housing affordability.

Marco Palma, president of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, said his organization is working with the Georgia Immigrant Alliance for Civic Empowerment, a collective of nearly 30 organizations, to ensure all immigrants participate in the census.

No talks with Brookhaven have started, he said, but his group looks forward to working with the city on how they might be able to work together.

“If Brookhaven wants to be proactive in making sure its residents along the dense portions of Buford Highway are counted, we also want to make sure they articulate proactive plans to preserve and even increase the current mix of affordable housing along the corridor,” Palma said

The city did approve as part of its zoning code rewrite last year that new residential multi-unit developments will be required to include 10 percent “workforce housing” units based on federal housing numbers.

According to the Housing Urban Development table for 2018, the metro Atlanta median household income, known as AMI, is $74,781. Eighty percent of the AMI for a four-person household is $59,850; for a one-person household it is $41,900.

However, census tract data for Buford Highway shows the median income per household at approximately $25,000, according to Los Vecinos de Buford Highway.

“We know federal funds are attached to census tracts, and we want to make sure that the residents who currently live on Buford Highway are also able to reap the benefits of those investments,” Palma said.

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.