ConnectHomeUSA can lead the way in getting all affordable housing residents connected

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

HUD and EveryoneOn announced the expansion of its ConnectHome program this May. I spoke at the launch event to both demonstrate NHC’s support of the ConnectHomeUSA program and share our hope that this expansion will lead to new models and partnerships that will make the difference in getting all affordable housing residents connected to the internet. ConnectHomeUSA plans to expand the current program from 28 communities to 100 communities by 2020, but the expansion is exciting beyond just its size. The expansion will allow the ConnectHome program to go beyond just public housing agencies to include private owners of HUD-assisted multifamily housing as well. The expansion will also include a new resource platform to share best practices and details on how other communities can make progress in closing the digital divide for affordable housing residents.

By expanding the ConnectHomeUSA program to more communities, we will learn more ways to tackle the challenge of how to make sure residents have the broadband infrastructure to get connected, access to a low-cost connection and access to devices and digital literacy training. Connecting low-income residents to the internet at home is essential because so many aspects of life are moving online. At least 80 percent of students need internet access to complete homework assignments and 90 percent of job applications are online. Job seekers with at-home internet find employment seven weeks faster than those without. Social workers can conduct virtual home visits for families with young children, making it possible to serve more families. The Free Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) will soon move entirely online, making home internet even more important for students applying for help with college tuition. And these are just a few examples.

NHC hopes that through the expansion, owners and developers will be able to see examples of how other properties have been able to finance the investment and maintain a broadband network. Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority in Ohio, a current ConnectHome participant, used line-of-sight technology and community partnerships to provide free broadband to residents in some of its buildings. The District of Columbia Housing Authority, also a ConnectHomeUSA participant, leveraged the public Wi-Fi network to serve some of its residents with free broadband. Boulder Housing Partners, while not a current ConnectHome participant, leveraged its participation in the Rental Assistance Demonstration program to include a community Wi-Fi network for residents. I hope examples like these will be discussed more through the new resource platform. By sharing these models and others through the ConnectHomeUSA expansion, we can start to make real progress in getting affordable housing residents connected!