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With A Week To Go, Census Workers Say They Still Can't Get Into Some Kansas City Apartment Buildings

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File photo by Julie Denesha
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KCUR 89.3FM
Census workers in Kansas City say they've had challenges accessing some multi-unit apartment buildings downtown.

A single building with more than 50 uncounted units could potentially cost Missouri more than $60,000 a year in federal funds.

The 2020 Census, already hampered by political battles, a shortened timeline and a global pandemic, faces an additional hurdle in Kansas City as it enters its final week — census workers are being refused entry into multi-family buildings, potentially costing communities millions of dollars in federal funding.

The issue first came to light a month ago when the Kansas City Council passed a last-minute ordinance that made it illegal to refuse to allow marked census workers entry into an apartment complex, nursing home or dormitory, responding to reports workers were being turned away.

On Wednesday, Kansas City councilman Eric Bunch said on Twitter that Census enumerators are still having issues accessing these buildings, many of which are downtown.

According to Kansas City officials, each person not counted in Missouri costs the state $1,272 in federal funds per year. That means a multi-unit apartment complex with 50 uncounted units could cost the state $63,600 per year and more than more than $600,000 over a decade.

William Miller is a Census enumerator in Kansas City, covering much of midtown and downtown.

“It varies a lot, some places have been extremely helpful,” Miller told KCUR, saying that several complexes in the Hyde Park and Union Hill neighborhoods have been cooperative.

Miller said he’s run into more challenges downtown.

“It seems like a lot of buildings really want us to have an escort or a supervisor and they’re limiting the times to when we can and can’t be in there … Some of the buildings I’ve been in have actually called me a security threat,” Miller said.

Miller declined to share any specific buildings that barred him entry because Census workers are sworn to anonymity.

But Bunch alluded to several downtown buildings that allegedly turned away workers that have received tax incentives from the city.

KCUR reached out to One and Two Light, The Grand Apartments and Union Berkley Riverfront apartments, all of which have benefitted from city investment.

Nick Benjamin, with Cordish Companies, which manages One and Two Light, said any allegations that people have been turned away from Cordish properties is “inaccurate.”

“Census workers have had frequent access to both of our buildings and our team members have responded to their requests for information,” Benjamin said in an e-mail.

The Grand Apartments and Union Berkley Riverfront apartments did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But the issue seems to spread beyond Kansas City. Cody Leonard, an enumerator in southwest Virginia, told KCUR he’s also been turned away by multi-unit buildings.

“When that happens, we’re supposed to talk to our field supervisors and put them in contact with the building manager, so that they can vouch for us that we really are who we say we are,” Leonard said. “But sometimes, even that doesn’t convince the property managers, and I have to move on to another case.”

Miller says he has a pretty good success rate going door to door — if someone answers.

“I get thanked a lot for doing it. You have to deal with a couple people who are wary of the government and a guy coming to your door, but even those people, for the most part, they fill it out,” Miller said.

Miller's partner, Erin Royals, has worked on Census efforts on behalf of the Center for Neighborhoods.

She says multi-family buildings are especially important to count because there’s a greater concentration of people living inside.

“The fact that they are not being able to count a large number of people is problematic. You know, now we have an undercount — and that means that we're going to miss out on a lot of federal dollars,” Royals said.

Royals added that less-dense areas of the city, like the Northland or South Kansas City, have responded in higher rates than the densely-populated urban core.

“Dollars are increasingly becoming more and more scarce,” Royal said. “So when lawmakers and officials are having to make decisions about where to invest money … it's not that far of a logical leap to say, well, based on the census data and based on this population count, it seems as though there's not that many people living in this part of the city.”

And, a takeaway suggesting less interest in downtown Kansas City may not bode well for its future.