By Joel Engelhardt
The population of the six barrier island towns of South County grew at an 11.7% pace over the past 10 years, a slightly lower rate than the county as a whole, census 2020 figures show.
The four larger municipalities with barrier island residents — Lantana, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Boca Raton — grew at a 14.6% rate, matching Florida’s overall growth rate.
Florida, the nation’s third-largest state, grew to 21.5 million residents, figures from the decennial nationwide count show.
The state’s third-largest county, Palm Beach, rose by 13% to 1.49 million residents, while the nation as a whole grew by 7.3% to 331 million residents.
The figures, released Aug. 12 and updated Sept. 16, will be used for redistricting seats in Congress and the Florida Legislature, as well as the Palm Beach County Commission. The census also is used to determine how much cities and towns get in federal and state revenues.
Here’s a breakdown of the count for the 10 South County barrier island municipalities.
South Palm Beach
After the confusion of the 2000 census, which initially put the South Palm Beach population at 699 but later updated the count to 1,531, the town’s count is beginning to achieve equilibrium.
This year, the census is “spot-on,” Town Manager Robert Kellogg said, with 1,471 residents, an 8.3% increase over 2010’s adjusted count.
The rise is due to the inclusion of two condo buildings on the southern edge of town at the Lantana border, 4500 and 4501 S. Ocean Blvd., Kellogg said. Both buildings, totaling 114 units, were counted in Lantana in 2010, he said.
The head count also coincides with the estimate of 1,460 residents in 2020 made by the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.
That’s a big change from the past two Census Bureau efforts.
The updated 2000 count, which came about when the Census Bureau realized it had put many town residents in Palm Beach or Lantana, held until 2010, when the bureau again had to reassess its South Palm count.
In 2010, the bureau first put the population at 1,171, a 30% decline over the amended 2000 number, but later changed it to 1,358 — a mere 12.7% drop.
The 2020 count gave South Palm Beach a 24% rise in housing units, the second-highest in the county, behind only Gulf Stream.
South Palm Beach had the county’s highest housing vacancy rate at 49%, down from 50% 10 years ago. Aside from capturing empty homes, the vacancy rate takes into account seasonal homes where the owner lists another home as primary.
South Palm Beach also saw an increase in residents who considered themselves white and not Hispanic, rising 15.5% since 2010.
At the same time, the town’s Hispanic population grew to 8% from 4% 10 years ago.
The Census Bureau considers Hispanic origin to be an ethnicity, not counted in its racial numbers. The numbers of white, Black and Asian people cited in this story are those who did not claim Hispanic origin or more than one race. The bureau allows residents to claim up to six races.
The population of Briny Breezes dropped 16.5% to 502, the Census Bureau said, the largest percentage decline of any municipality in Palm Beach County. The number is 75 fewer people than the bureau’s April 2020 estimate for the town.
The only other Palm Beach County municipalities to lose population over 10 years were Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay in the Glades and the two tiniest towns in the county, Glen Ridge and Cloud Lake.
“It’s a disappointment to me to hear that our population has dropped,” Town Council President Sue Thaler said. “We were afraid of that with the COVID shutdown, especially as it affected our Canadian residents. Many had to drop everything and return immediately to Canada in March 2020.”
Residents, including those from other countries, who departed before April 1, the official head count day, would not have been counted. Town volunteers took to the phones to call residents and urge them to complete a census form.
“If there is something we can do about it I hope we do, because the undercount, I’ve been saying since COVID hit, is going to affect us for the next 10 years,” Thaler said. Census data is used to determine how federal and state revenues are shared among towns and counties.
The 2020 drop comes 10 years after Briny recorded a 46% population increase.
The Census Bureau appears to have rectified an error in its 2010 census, which counted 800 housing units in Briny Breezes, an impossible number in a town with just 488 lots. The 2020 census puts the number of housing units at 523.
With the drop in housing units came a drop in the percentage considered vacant, from a countywide high of 53.5% in 2010 to 41.1% in 2020.
The town remained mostly white, at 95%, but registered 16 Hispanic residents, an increase over five Hispanic residents recorded in 2010.
Gulf Stream remained mostly white and growing in 2020, with the census showing a 21% population increase to 954. The rate of increase is the fourth-highest among the county’s municipalities and well beyond the countywide growth rate of 13%.
It keeps Gulf Stream’s population ahead of the same six towns as 10 years ago — Briny Breezes, Manalapan, Jupiter Inlet Colony, the Village of Golf, Glen Ridge and Cloud Lake — plus the county’s newest city, Westlake, which has 906 residents.
The population rose from 786, buoyed by the 2011 annexation of 16.6 acres north of town, which was expected to add about 150 new residents, as well as the conversion of single-home estates into multiple lots.
The bureau counted 662 homes in Gulf Stream, with 457 occupied, producing a 31% vacancy rate. That’s 137 housing units more than in 2010. The 26% rise in housing units was the highest rate in the county.
The town’s population registered 93% non-Hispanic white and 5% Hispanic, a rise from 4% 10 years ago.
Manalapan registered a 3.2% population increase, the 10th-smallest rise among municipalities in Palm Beach County, to 419 residents. The climb is 30% since 2000, when the Census Bureau counted 321 residents. The population remains overwhelmingly non-Hispanic white, at 92%, up from 90% 10 years ago. The census counted 306 housing units, down from 339 in 2010. The vacancy rate stood at 33.6%.
Ocean Ridge’s population rose 2.8%, the ninth-smallest increase in the county, to 1,830 residents. Its population is 9% higher than it was 20 years ago, and remains more than 90% white.
The Hispanic share of its population rose to 4.3%, up from 2.9% in 2010, and the number of Asians in Ocean Ridge doubled to 30 from 15.
The town’s housing vacancy rate dipped slightly to 37.5% and the number of housing units dropped by just four, to 1,557.
The town dominated by waterfront condos saw a 21.3% population increase to 4,295 in 2020 and a correspondingly sharp 21.7% rise in housing units.
The population number is nearly 10% more than the April 2020 Census Bureau estimate and 17.5% greater than the University of Florida’s 2020 estimate for the town.
Highland Beach retained its position as the 21st-largest town in the county but the town grew at the fifth-highest rate among municipalities countywide.
The Census Bureau counted 774 more housing units in Highland Beach in 2020, but a corresponding rise in vacancies left the vacancy rate nearly unchanged at 43%.
The town added one large condo building since 2010, the eight-story Seagate condo at 3200 S. Ocean Blvd., though it added just 19 housing units.
Still, residents volunteered to go door-to-door during the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020 to urge people to fill out their census forms, more families moved in and many residents switched their primary homes to Highland Beach, said town Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman.
“I’m pleasantly surprised people answered,” Gossett-Seidman said.
The town remained more than 90% white, with a rise in its Asian population to nearly 2% and a Black population of about a half percent. Hispanics represent 5.4% of the town’s population, up from 3.6% in 2010.
Lantana retained its place as the 15th-largest municipality in Palm Beach County, with a 10.3% population gain to 11,504. Its white population dipped nearly 3% to just below half, at 49.6%. Its Black population rose nearly 24% and now represents nearly one-quarter of the town’s population. One-fifth of the town’s residents consider themselves Hispanic.
The census showed a 9% rise in housing units in Lantana, to 5,659.
Boca Raton, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach
Among the three large cities with coastal populations, Delray Beach grew the slowest, at a 10.4% clip, while Boca Raton gained 15.4% and Boynton Beach gained 17.8%. Over the past 20 years, Boca Raton and Boynton Beach grew by nearly a third while Delray grew by just 11%.
Boca Raton, with 97,422 people, retained its position as the second-largest city in the county, behind West Palm Beach.
Boynton Beach’s population reached 80,380, third-highest in the county, with Delray Beach next at 66,846.
All three cities saw a decline in white non-Hispanic populations, with whites in Boynton Beach dipping below half to 47.3%. Boynton Beach’s Black population rose to one-third.
Boca Raton, which was 84% white in 2000, stood at 70.8% white and 7% Black, while Delray went from 61.8% white 20 years ago to 57.4% white and 27% Black.
The Hispanic population of the three cities rose from less than 10% 20 years ago to 15% in Boca Raton and Boynton Beach and 11.6% in Delray Beach.
All three cities added housing at a rapid clip, with Delray Beach’s housing stock rising by 11.3%. Boca Raton’s and Boynton Beach’s housing stocks both went up by 9.4%.