SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Census Bureau, charged with counting every person living in the United States in the coming decennial, may never find whoever is living here in this converted garage on the east side of town.
The property owner has replaced the garage door with siding, painted it the same beige as the rest of the house, and added a small window and front door. The makeshift remodeling is well camouflaged, but there’s another tell — the sidewalk out front slopes down to the street where there was clearly once a driveway.
“There are certain cues we’re looking for,” said Nicholas Almeida, San Jose’s chief service officer. The city knows that thousands of people are living in units like this, technically illegal, with no recognized address. Their hidden households have extra satellite dishes outside, curtains over basement windows, mail slots in garage doors. Setting aside questions of housing code enforcement, San Jose needs the census to find these residents, too, if the city is going to get its full share of the political power and federal resources tied to the national head count.
Two years out from the census, cities are scrambling to avert an undercount they fear could be unusually large for reasons both political and practical. Across California, the housing crisis means that even more households are doubling up in existing homes and occupying illegal ones. In Houston, many families remain displaced by Hurricane Harvey. In New York, the city has…