WASHINGTON – The U.S. Census Bureau has boosted its 2003 population estimate for Baltimore City by almost 15,000 residents, a shift that city officials hailed as evidence that a decades-long loss of residents is coming to an end.
The bureau’s decision to revise its estimate of the city’s 2003 population from 628,670 to 643,304 residents will mean an additional $2 million a year in federal grants for Baltimore.
But city officials — who challenged the original estimate last month and announced the bureau’s decision Wednesday — were more excited about the additional people than the additional dollars.
“People are moving back into the city. They’re finding it a great place to come back to,” said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin O’Malley.
“With all the great things happening here in Baltimore . . . you’re going to see an uptick in the numbers” within the next few years, she said.
The city in September contested the Census’ original estimate, which used Internal Revenue Service figures to determine net migration. City officials said that method did not take into account changes in the city’s housing, and they submitted data on building permits, demolitions, vacancies, conversions and new construction projects to make their case.
The Census agreed and announced the revision in a letter sent this week.
This is not the first time the city has questioned the Census: In 2002, the bureau agreed to change its 2001 estimate for Baltimore’s population from 635,210 to 645,305, after local officials filed a challenge.
The new numbers show that the city’s net population loss has slowed from 1,100 residents a month in 1996 to 33 per month last year, according to O’Malley’s office.
But a state official cautioned that the new numbers, like the old, are just estimates and there is no hard evidence that one is better than the other.
“It’s hard to say whether it’s more accurate than the old estimate,” said Mark Goldstein, economist at the Maryland Department of Planning. “It may be between the two, but you just don’t know.”
He said Baltimore officials based their challenge on buildings in the city, without taking into account possible “changes in household sizes.” But he said that does not necessarily mean that the new figure is wrong.
Others agreed with city officials that the potential exists for Baltimore to reverse its losing streak in coming years.
Dunbar Brooks, manager of data development at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, said that an influx of young adults, a decline in deaths, new housing developments and aggressive marketing may bode well for Baltimore.
“There are definitely areas in the city where the population is growing. There are still areas in the city where the population is declining,” Brooks said. “Taken together, the city is still net-losing people, but the margin of the net loss is diminishing. That’s a good sign.”
Baltimore reached a peak of 949,708 residents in 1950, the Census said, but the population steadily dropped over the next five decades to 651,154 residents in 2000, a population drop of 31 percent.
But the adjusted population estimates appear to show the city has lost fewer and fewer people each year since 2000, from 5,849 lost between 2000 and 2001, to 1,605 the following year, to only 396 last year.
The slowing rate of decline means that Baltimore’s population should soon start gaining residents, said Otis Rolley III, director of the city’s planning department. He believes that will happen by 2010, provided the city continues to “stay on track and continue to commit human and financial resources to the quality of life, crime reduction and making Baltimore an ideal place to live, play and learn.”
But Brooks said any turnaround will largely depend on how well the city retains the new residents moving in.
“The real key for the city becomes, as these young couples move into the city . . . once they have kids, will they remain in the city?” he asked. If city officials can keep those families, he said, then, “Yes, they can turn these things around.”
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