This is the second in an occasional series exploring what the U.S. Census Bureau’s recently released five-year American Community Survey tells us about our state.

Connecticut homeowners have seen monthly housing expenses decrease, and fewer are spending what is considered a too-large part of their income on housing. But the same improvements haven’t been seen by renters, who are increasing in number.

About 33.4 percent of housing units were renter-occupied in the five-year period ending in 2017, compared with 31.7 percent in the period ending in 2012.

The American Community Survey combines data from the entire five-year period ending in 2017 into estimates, which are inherently imperfect. CT Mirror’s first story on this data looked at Connecticut’s growing commute times.

Here are some takeaways on housing.

1. Housing costs are down, for homeowners

Homeowners with a mortgage have seen their median housing costs decrease from $2,306 to $2,065, while renters have seen a slight increase, from $1,114 to $1,123.

Homeowners without a mortgage have the lowest monthly costs. They also saw a decrease, from $875 to $851.

2. Homeowners now less likely to be burdened

Homeowners with mortgages were much less burdened by housing costs — a designation for people spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing — than in the previous five-year period.

In 2012-2017, some 32.8 percent of homeowners with mortgages were spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, down from 40.4 percent.

Meanwhile renters saw a much more modest improvement — about one percentage point. More than half of renters, 52.3 percent, were cost-burdend, down from 53.3.

Only 22.1 percent of homeowners without mortgages were cost-burdened, down from 24.9.

3. More homes owned without mortgages

The percentage of owner-occupied units with mortgages has also gone down — from 71.5 to 68.9 percent.

This reduction in mortgages coincides with the population getting older.

The median age in Connecticut went from 40 to 40.8, and the retirement-age population, 65-and-up, went from about 14.3 percent of the population to 16 percent.

Connecticut is older than the nation as a whole. The U.S. median age was 37.8 years.

4. The downside? Home values

It’s not all rosy for home owners. Home values took a big hit in the Great Recession, and there are indications home values have not recovered in Connecticut.

The ACS does include housing unit price estimates, but they’re limited in what we can learn. Because the survey combines five years of data into one number, it doesn’t indicate which direction the needle moved over that period.

With that caveat, the estimated housing unit price fell from $285,000 over the five-year period ending in 2012 to $270,100 over the period ending in 2017. Other measures of house values, like the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s House Price Index, provide more insight into home value trends.

Gearing up for the decennial count

The American Community Survey — the basis of this story — is different from the Census Bureau’s flagship product, the 10-year or “decennial” count, which will take place in 2020.

Unlike the survey, which produces estimates based on surveying a portion of the population, the decennial census is an effort to count every single person in the country.

The decennial census is updated each year with administrative data, like birth and deaths, to keep it from straying too far from reality, and the American Community Survey is meant to get more granular (but less accurate) information on a regular basis.

The decennial count is a massive undertaking, so preparations are already starting to ensure that Connecticut is counted correctly. This is important for many reasons — not least of which is the roughly 8 billion in federal dollars the state receives based in part on Census data.

Earlier this month, state and local officials met at a CT Data Collaborative event in Hartford to talk about the effort.

Jeff Behler, who runs the Census Bureau’s New York region, which includes Connecticut, said field offices would be staffed starting in February and opened mid-2018 in Danbury, New Haven and Hartford.

Behler said that the Census in 2010 relied on 500,000 staffers, while this time it will only have around 350,000 — so it’s important to reduce the demand for staff-intensive work.

The best way to do that is by getting more people to respond to email, online and telephone surveys, so fewer staff members have to go around knocking on doors.

Looming over the 2020 Census is a new, controversial question about citizenship, which critics fear will suppress participation by people worried about repercussions from admitting they’re in the country illegally. Under-representation in the Census means under-representation in any number of grants, policy decisions, research and political representation.

The question is being contested in a court case brought by state attorneys general — including Connecticut’s — that the New York Times reports is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin called the question a politically motivated “scare tactic” and said, “We cannot let it succeed.”

Behler said no one should fear deportation because there are serious penalties for sharing information about people who participate in the Census — even sharing that information with law enforcement.

“I can be imprisoned up to 5 years, not only the employees who work for the Census, but anybody who has ever worked for the Census,” said Behler. “This is an oath for life that we’re sworn to protect this data.”

Behler said part of the Census effort would involve a broad, informal outreach campaign to get out that message.

Jake was Data Editor at CT Mirror. He is a former managing editor of The Ridgefield Press, a Hersam Acorn newspaper. He worked for the community newspaper chain as a reporter and editor for five years before joining the Mirror staff. He studied professional writing at Western Connecticut State University and is a graduate student in software engineering at Harvard Extension School.

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