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Apr 12, 2011 6:28 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Shrinking Population Poses A Mystery In Montauk

Apr 12, 2011 6:28 PM

The Town of East Hampton continued to fill out. The hamlet of Springs exploded. But Montauk bucked the trend in a big way, shedding 16 percent of its population over the last 10 years.

U.S. Census data released late last month shows that the hamlet lost 525 full-time residents between 2000 and 2010, the population shrinking from 3,851 to 3,326.

Montauk residents say the change isn’t palpable on the streets, especially during the summer, when the hamlet is beset by a dizzying tide of seasonal residents and tourists.

But the trend has been borne out in enrollment at the Montauk School, which Superintendent of Schools Jack Perna said has gone from about 425 students 10 years ago to about 320 today—and that’s after the addition of a pre-kindergarten program four years ago.

To him, the trend is easy to explain when one looks at the high cost of real estate in the hamlet, which he said has driven a shift to an even more seasonal community.

“The real estate prices are too high for people to live here,” Mr. Perna said. “If families had a house, they sold when prices were high, and they moved from here to either Springs, Hampton Bays, the Carolinas. And the people who bought were summer-home owners. And it’s impossible to find a year-round rental in Montauk, almost impossible.”

But Seth Forman, chief planner for the Long Island Planning Council, offered a different theory. He noted that Montauk’s overall population decline was driven by a loss of 384 Hispanic and Latino residents over the last 10 years. That population 
dropped from 921 in 2000 to 537 in 2010.

“This could all be a result of the recession and the loss of job opportunities for day laborers,” he said. Day laborers, he noted, are generally recent arrivals who are attracted to the area for the sole purpose of working, and are thus more likely to leave town when the jobs disappear.

But why would Montauk lose a large chunk of its Hispanics and Latinos when the same population skyrocketed throughout much of Long Island, including most of the East End? The 
recession hit everywhere, after all.

Maybe, Mr. Forman said, the seasonal nature of Montauk’s economy—which is extreme for the East End—played a role. Or maybe Census takers in Montauk were simply not as assiduous in going after Hispanics and Latinos, or residents in general. It’s hard to say for sure, he said.

Mr. Forman doubted that an economic shift to a more seasonal community was to blame, noting there was only a slight uptick in the ratio of vacant to seasonal homes in the hamlet. The number of vacant homes recorded in the Census is usually used as an indicator of the seasonal population of the East End. In Montauk, vacant homes made up 69.5 percent of total housing units in 2010, up from 66.9 in 2000.

“I can’t attribute the decline to that,” Mr. Forman said. “First of all, that’s within the margin of error.”

Another strange trend documented in the 2010 Census was the disappearance of 149 total housing units in Montauk, 
while most places saw some growth from the construction 
of new homes. Montauk went from a housing pool of 4,815 units to one of 4,666.

Some speculated that the trend could be driven entirely by motels that once served as cheap year-round rentals for some residents, but have since started closing down in the winter. One example is the Surf Lodge, which is now open only for the summer season.

But, generally speaking, bizarre Census-to-Census trends are not rare on the East End, according to Mr. Forman, simply because the populations are so small.

“Whenever you have the slightest changes, it’s going to show up in big percentages,” Mr. Forman said. “So the East End has these crazy percentages.”

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Shrinking population in Montauk, exploding population in Springs. a mystery? are you kidding me?
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Apr 13, 11 6:58 PM
Population lost in Montauk based on Census Bureau????
The shift in population is certainly on the upward swing in the
East End! Presently there are studies up island regarding the
new demagraphics of Long Island. Perhaps we should ask
Fred Thiele about this situation??? I believe he has been working
on this for years!!!
By East Ender (64), Southampton on Apr 14, 11 4:27 AM
Maybe the montauk monster has been killing long time residents.
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Apr 14, 11 8:41 AM
CHUPACABRA !!!
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Apr 14, 11 8:56 AM
It's Montauk. Nice place to visit, but living there in the winter would turn any reasonable person into Jack from "The Shining."
By Mr Suffolk (113), Twin Forks on Apr 14, 11 12:17 PM
too bad Springs can't have such problems, exploding is worse than shrinking
By snapper (17), springs on Apr 14, 11 6:20 PM
Not an easy place to live. Terrible traffic in summer,parking tickets, tourist prices in all the stores until you get to Riverhead, expensive fuel, high property taxes, expensive houses, not a lot of affordable apartments. Long bus trip for students to go to high school and its sporting events.
Isolation and rough weather in winter-- only exceeded by Forks, Washington.

Great for those who don't worry about price and for those who enjoy seasonal solitude and brisk walks.

And, ...more
By Montaukette (46), Waterland on Apr 19, 11 12:40 AM