2020 Census Confirms Big Changes in Who Lives On Roosevelt Island

2020 Census Confirms Big Changes in Who Lives On Roosevelt Island

2020 Census figures from the New York City Department of City Planning confirm big changes in Roosevelt Island’s demographics. Community makeup diverges sharply from 2010 but also from overall city numbers.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

New census numbers were first reported in the Roosevelt Islander blog.

A 2020 Census with Few Surprises

460 Main Street attracted new residents, but it didn’t open soon enough to fully impact the 2020 census.

As we reported, the 14,000 to 15,000 population figures long bandied about by RIOC have always been fictional. The phony numbers were used for luring businesses to Main Street and for selling ads. Eventually, many of the businesses failed, and the ad revenues dried up.

In 2010, the count showed 11,661 residents. That included nearly 1,900 institutionalized in city long term care facilities. By the time the 2020 Census rolled around, that total count hadn’t changed much. Population ticked up by just 61 residents to 11,722, but that disguises fundamental changes that weren’t really surprises.

The biggest changes…

Two statistics stand out as defining what’s different about Roosevelt Island in 2020. The first reflects a shift away from the days of Welfare Island to the modern community. With Coler Specialty Hospital the last of a once long list city institutions, the focus is much stronger on households. In 2010, over 16% of residents were institutionalized, but todays it’s only 4%.


That’s a net loss of 1,419 community members, although still much higher than the city’s 0.6%. But on the plus side, Roosevelt Island made up for it with 695 new household units, all in Southtown and Cornell Tech. So, while total population remained the same, it includes more likely consumers. That’s good news for businesses.

The other significant change continues a dynamic trend seen in the last census. The 2020 Census shows every other racial demographic group declining while the Asian population nearly doubled. Asian community members now total 1,777, an 83.8% jump from 2010, bolstering stability. With our Asian population at 33.2%, we’re double the citywide average of 15.6%.

Changes in other groups largely reflect the shear drop off in the institutionalized count. We lost 1,419 from a diverse group that found Roosevelt Island a safe and welcoming home.

2020 Census Conclusions

By this time in 2021, it’s likely that the total population has grown since the community was counted. The apartment vacancy rate of 8.8% has certainly improved as residential managers worked creatively at filling up units emptied by pandemic fears. And new affordable housing at 460 Main has brought in newcomers, even after opening mid-pandemic. Still to come, a boost from Westview privatization that’s just underway.

New business openings, like Island OM, and recoveries, like Granny Annie’s, reflect a healthier climate.

Hudson-Related’s David Kramer recently reported progress toward getting Southtown building #9 under construction, although obstacles remain. With the state’s control of Roosevelt Island set to expire in 2068, the long term financing needed forms a major challenge because bankers look for leases of 50 years and up. There aren’t that many left, and there’s no telling what will happen in 2068 when the city might take Roosevelt Island back.

Best guess, when the next census takes place, Roosevelt Islanders will tally up at about 12,500. But that assumes that building #9 is built and fully occupied and that we are able to keep Coler open.

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