Download Census Data for GIS

Example data

  • We will be exploring tenure data, which looks at owner vs. renter-occupied units.
  • We want census responses that have been aggregated to the census tract level.
  • Our area of study is near the Harvard campus, in Somerville and Cambridge.
  • We’ll be looking at the most recent estimates at the time this guide was written, 2015-2019.

Geography tip: Census tracts are a popular aggregation unit, as they are more granular than county or state level data, but more available and statistically-reliable than block level data.

The steps in this tutorial series will work for any U.S. census data, such as age, race, income, etc. If you’re not sure which variables are available, you can use to find out.

Screenshot of final map, showing renter occupied units in Somerville and Cambridge Example of the tenure data we will work with, uploaded to ArcGIS Online.


  1. Visit

  2. Select Get Data. Screenshot of Get Data button on

  3. Select Topics. Screenshot of Topics facet on

  4. Select Housing. Screenshot of Housing topic facet on

  5. Check off Tenure and Mortgage Status. Screenshot of Tenure and Mortgage Status topic checked off on

  6. Finalize your topics selection by choosing the Submit button. Screenshot of Submit button on

  7. To specify we want to work with census tracts, select Geographic Levels. Screenshot of Geographic Levels facet on

  8. Check off Census Tract. Screenshot of checked-off census tract option on

  9. Finalize your geographic levels selection by choosing the Submit button. Screenshot of Submit button on

  10. To indicate our time frame of 2015-2019, select Years. Screenshot of Years facet on

  11. Check off 2015-2019. Screenshot of checked-off 2015-2019 option on

  12. Finalize your years selection by choosing the Submit button. Screenshot of Submit button on

  13. Under Source Tables, check off the Tenure data table. This will add the census statistical table to our shopping cart. Screenshot of checked-off tenure table on

  14. To change the results that match our criteria from tables to GIS boundary files, select GIS Files.

Remember, we need both! Screenshot of GIS files tab on

  1. Checkout by selecting Continue from the data cart in the upper-right hand corner of the screen. Screenshot of data cart on

  2. Accept all of the download defaults.

  3. Select Submit.

You will need to create a free login in order to checkout. You can create one in a new tab if you don’t want to lose your data selection.


  • It takes a few minutes to prepare your extract. You can either wait and refresh the page, or you will receive an email when the data is ready.
  • Extracts come with any accompanying codebook. Screenshot of codebook file from download
  • Use this codebook to make sense of the table’s field names. Screenshot of codebook from download