Ontario City Manager Adam Brown, shown at a council meeting this year, said Oregon's tax policies may hamper population growth locally, compared to that in Idaho. (The Enterprise/file)

ONTARIO – The city of Ontario grew by 279 people since 2010, a number which City Manager Adam Brown said exceeded projections by the federal Census bureau and Portland State University’s Population Research Center. 

Ontario’s growth as documented in the 2020 census represents the majority of growth for Malheur County.

The city population sits at 11,645.

The city experienced a small decline in the percentage of population under 18, and a small decline in the population that identifies as white non-Hispanic. The percentage of white people in Ontario remained exactly the same as a decade ago when white Hispanic people were included in the count. 

For the purposes of the census, race and Hispanic origin are counted separately, reflecting that people of Hispanic origin are from every racial background. 

“The census results...captured what we have already known – Oregon is becoming more and more diverse as time goes on,” said Norma Ramirez, director of programs for Euvalcree. “However, Oregon's overall counted population is still predominantly white. I emphasize ‘counted’ because it is important to recognize that there are communities that are not reflected in the results due to a variety of reasons such as mistrust of the government, accessibility, language, etc.”

Malheur County is the second-most Latinx county in Oregon by population, but its Latinx population grew the slowest of any Oregon county between 2010 and 2020 according to the census. Unlike many high-density Latinx areas, Malheur County did not receive bilingual census materials in English and Spanish.

The Latinx population of Ontario rose from 41.3% to 43.4%. An analysis of census tract data, which allows for a more granular look at population movement within Ontario, shows that this increase was not evenly spread. 

Both northwest and southwest Ontario experienced significant growth in their Latinx populations. Northwest Ontario’s Latinx population grew from 27.3% in 2010 to 33.5% in 2020. And southwest Ontario’s Latinx population grew from 26.5% in 2010 to 34.4% in 2020. 

Northwest and southwest Ontario are the two sections of the city where the city experienced growth, and that growth was largely fueled by Latinx people.

East Ontario, however, which had a solid Latinx majority in 2010 at 58.1%, lost 218 people over the following decade, and the majority of those who left were Latinx. As such, in 2020, east Ontario was only 54.1% Latinx. 

Brown said he was surprised by the small decline in the Latinx population of east Ontario. 

Northwest Ontario, he said, had likely grown the most of anywhere in the city since 2010 because it had the room to do so. 

“That’s where the newest housing stock is, up in the northwest area,” he said. 

The 2020 census measured an increase of 62 housing units in Ontario, the majority of which are in northwest Ontario. 

In each of the three census tracts which comprise the city, the total number of units went up, while the number of vacant homes went down. The number of occupied units grew by 3%. 

“One thing that we’ve seen is that in 2010 there were still lingering effects of the housing crisis,” said Charles Rynerson, a demographer at the Population Research Center. “There were houses in a lot of places that were foreclosed or bank-owned.”

In 2020, Rynerson said, the pre-pandemic economy was much stronger than in 2010, and the effects of the pandemic on the evictions crisis had yet to be felt on April 1, 2020, the day the census was counted. That is likely what allowed for the higher percentage of occupied units.

Brown pointed out that the rise in the number of housing units in itself might explain part of Ontario’s growth over the past decade. But he said he would want to do more research before definitively attributing all the growth to that. 

“Some of the Hispanic or Mexican families in Ontario share houses, so the density may (also) be more than it was ten years ago,” he said. 

Brown said that growth was a strategic priority for Ontario, but there were multiple factors that could have hindered Ontario from growing as fast as other cities in the Boise area. 

“I think we’re held back by some taxation policies,” he said, referencing Oregon’s property and estate taxes, which are higher than in Idaho. “To some extent we’ve (also) seen some white flight across the river. I think the numbers verify that. We have grown a little bit, but we’re a much more diverse population than we were 10 and 20 years ago.” 

Brown and Ramirez said it was important for local leaders to reflect the new demographic realities of the city. 

“The 2020 Census results have definitely caused some mixed emotions,” Ramirez said. “Now that we have a relative idea of the makeup of communities, we can begin reviewing our leadership at every level and ensure that everyone is represented and holds a voice at the table.”

“As the community changes by the type of people that are there, they may want different things than how it was shaped two decades ago. So we just have to stay in tune with what the evolving community expects and wants in terms of the services that we deliver,” Brown said.

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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