Hamtramck is one of the fastest growing places in Michigan
Hamtramck, known for its dynamic immigrant communities, saw a 27% jump in its population since 2010 when it recorded 22,423 residents. That is one of the highest increases seen among Michigan cities and townships, according to the 2020 U.S. Census Bureau update.
Hamtramck is a 2.1 square mile city inside Detroit and is home to residents from Yemen, Poland, Bosnia and Bangladesh. Hamtramck is said to now have 28,433 residents . It is easily the densest city in Michigan. And politicians say the number should be higher.
Longtime mayor Karen Majewski said the city was "woefully undercounted” in the 2010 census, and was mismanaged.
“There's a tremendous population growth in Hamtramck that's actually been going on for the last 20 years, and just has not been recognized,” she said. “This is a real kind of vindication of what we've been saying all along: that Hamtramck is growing, that we're crowded, and that a lot of people from all over are choosing Hamtramck as a place to live.”
Majewski said new outreach strategies were used this time to ensure a better response rate, such as multilingual materials and partnering with immigrant community leaders. The Piast Institute is Hamtramck's census center.
Despite being happy to see the new numbers, Majewski said the 2020 update is still an undercount.
Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck), the state representative of Hamtramck and parts of Detroit, maintains this as well. He points out the self-response rate was under the state average. During his general election, Aiyash went door-to-door to help his constituents fill out forms and reassure them about the importance of the census.
He estimated that the population is actually closer to 40,000.
“And it’s hard to believe, but I promise you it’s true,” he said.
People of color are more likely to not be counted by the census. Government mistrust being a factor, especially after former President Donald Trump attempted to put a citizenship question on the ballot. Trump also prompted the early end of door-knocking for census workers. Before the census deadline Michigan's "Be Counted" campaign had expressed worry about the impact on low-income, immigrant and communities of color and the chance of them being "shortchanged" as a result.
An established community
Majewski credited Hamtramck’s affordability and walkability as a major benefit of the city. But she also emphasized that its guaranteed sense of community, due to being so densely packed, is another factor that ushers in new residents. This is especially important for immigrants because of the existing infrastructure like families, mosques, churches, and political/social institutions.
Hamtramck’s highest total number increase for ethnic and racial groups was among its Asian population — the data reports over 2,800 new residents.
That’s not surprising to Tahrima Khanom. She is the board president of Women of Banglatown, an arts and wellness organization for women and girls in the Detroit/Hamtramck neighborhood. Many Bangladeshis, including her own extended family, migrated to the United States in the past decades.
Khanom said her family has “that classic Bangladeshi-American migration story.” After arriving at a small Queens apartment in the '80s and '90s, her parents and three sisters moved to Hamtramck. They learned from relatives already settled there of new employment opportunities, like the surrounding factories, and were drawn to the chance to buy a house and live near family.
Years later, after a long citizenship process, Khanom’s mother was able to bring her siblings to the city.
“Our entire family, even extended family and friends of the family, got together to make sure they had what they needed to be comfortable as they got settled,” she said. “Whether it was beds to sleep on, furniture, kitchen utensils, people really rallied to get them what they needed. And that is just a very common occurrence in Hamtramck.”
It’s just one example of the cultural and economic sense of community, she said.
“There are definitely more Bangladeshi people living there right now than there were when I was growing up. And when I was growing up, it was also very, very diverse,” she said, recalling the numerous native languages spoken in her high school.
The census indicates white residents increased by 32%. It is vital to note that people of Middle East and North African descent are classified as “white” by the census.
Yemenis have made up a large part of the community for decades but are hidden in the data due to the categorization Arabs find misleading. This can prevent an analysis of social issues, policy decisions and disparities.
“I’m a brown person, through and through,” Aiyash said. “My parents came here from Yemen. Yet, this practice classified me as a white person, which is just not an accurate representation of Hamtramck.”
“An accurate count means one, you’re not only counting 'how many people are there' but you are also counting, 'what kind of people are there?' And that’s important.”
Aiyash said the Yemeni diaspora in both Hamtramck and Michigan has grown over the past decade, especially because of the war in Yemen.
The Black population saw a big decrease. It went down by 34%, now reported to be 2,814 people in 2020. Majewski said she was concerned by the statistic and had questions about it. She said she was unsure if it was due to inadequate outreach or a lack of trust in the census process.
- The "two or more races" category saw a 61% increase (a little over 600 new people).
- Hamtramck is getting younger — the under 18 population grew by 33%.
- More houses are full. In 2010, there was a 19% vacancy rate. Now, there is an 8% housing vacancy rate.
- Many census tracts across Hamtramck saw increases in population. (It is worth noting the U.S. Census added "noise," or a variation from the actual total count, in population data under state levels in order to protect individual privacy.)
People have also come from the suburbs more, Majewski added.
Aiyash said Hamtramck is still diversifying, seeing more immigrants (due to conflicts abroad) and young professionals. Its closeness to Detroit's downtown is a big draw.
“You are also seeing a renewed commitment in Hamtramck for people who were thinking about leaving as a result of the economic decline in the area,” he said. “You know, Hamtramck is a resilient community, despite all of the twists and turns. Obviously, a full-time plant closing at some point. There was a huge tax base in the city that was lost.”
“Despite all of these things, the community has been able to bounce back and stay strong,” Aiyash added.
Majewski said the undercount in 2010 “really hurt us.” In terms of funding but also with the way projections forecasting limited population growth affected perceptions of the city, and thus, investment.
This was bewildering to residents in the city, who were seeing a much different story in person.
“Those numbers have real power," she said. "And so, at least for 2020, I'm hoping that those numbers have positive power for us.”
Aiyash said even after the Great Recession, people did not leave the city.
“It shows Hamtramck is still a vibrant city. It’s still a city people want to live in. It’s not a place where you’re having a quote unquote ‘mass exodus’ of people leaving (for the suburbs),” he explained.
“I am so proud to be from this small little city inside of Detroit."
*This post was updated Sept. 7 at 6:00 p.m.