The latest census data, released in March, show that Howard Beach had a population of 26,148 in 2010—a drop of nearly 2,000, or 7%, from 2000 levels. Longtime residents say that statistic flies in the face of what they've seen in the area over the past decade. The neighborhood has experienced explosive growth, as more Latin-Americans and Asians have moved in and as a development boom led to the replacement of many single-family houses with multiunit buildings.
“These census figures are significantly skewed,” said activist David Quintana, a member of Community Board 10, which serves Howard Beach and nearby neighborhoods including Ozone Park and Richmond Hill. “There are many more people who live in this area than the numbers show.”
Much is at stake. Census figures help dictate everything from the allocation of federal aid for social services to city officials' plans for new schools and bus routes.
Community services are already suffering in Howard Beach. Recently, the cash-strapped Police Athletic League had to close down a basketball league there. Locals fear that this loss is only the beginning.
“The census undercount will have a major impact on the community,” said state Assemblyman Michael Miller, D-Woodhaven.
To be sure, census takers faced a number of challenges, particularly among immigrant populations. Tenants living in housing illegally were discouraged by their landlords from talking to outsiders. Undocumented immigrants were terrified that any information they passed on to surveyors would lead to visits from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
“A lot of people just didn't want to be counted,” said Mr. Quintana. “They didn't appreciate the significance of this count.”


An official from the Census Bureau's New York Regional Office, however, insisted in a statement issued to Crain's that it “actually had a very good count for Howard Beach.”
He noted that the agency received good mail response in the area and that every attempt was made to find and tally those individuals who did not return a form but were willing to be counted.
“We made a strong effort to get a count from households that did not and would not respond to our census enumerators,” said the official. He also noted that the campaign included speaking to knowledgeable neighbors in the area as well as working with building management companies.
“Unfortunately,” wrote the official, “we cannot make up information for people who refuse to be counted or cooperate.”