Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Making the case for connecting low-income residents to the internet

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

Recently, I moderated a panel on affordable housing and broadband at the United States of Anchors conference, hosted by the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition. At the conference, I learned even more about why getting low-income residents connected to the internet is so important. Eighty percent of students need internet access to complete homework assignments and because 90 percent of job applications are online, all low-income residents need internet access to apply for jobs. Job seekers with at-home internet find employment seven weeks faster. 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 will soon move entirely online, making home internet even more important for students applying for help with college tuition. I also heard about unique programs and partnerships, challenges for housing providers to consider in their broadband program planning and financial benefits for housing providers in getting their residents connected.

Unique programs and partnerships:
  • Rhode Island Housing has a program with its seven public housing agencies to incorporate questions about broadband access into its recertification process. 
  • Libraries play an important role as local conveners when implementing digital inclusion.
  • In Seattle, the public housing agency is looking at how to wire buildings to allow multiple internet providers.
  • Having multilingual community-based partners is important for outreach.
  • The Alliance for Technology Refurbishing and Reuse is a helpful resource for devices.
  • In the ConnectHome expansion to 100 PHAs, EveryoneOn hopes to have a set-aside within the expansion for rural and tribal communities.
  • Boulder Valley School District is piloting an antenna on one elementary school building, giving the internet service provider antennae access in exchange for providing free home internet for students in the free and reduced lunch program. 
Challenges for housing providers:
  • How to provide tech support for devices.
  • Long-term maintenance of networks and devices.
  • How to measure impact and determine program metrics.
  • The long-term plan for connection when many low-cost offers are time-limited.
  • How to best engage with the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program.
Financial benefits of getting affordable housing residents connected:
  • Streamlined recertification process.
  • Residents can pay rent online; can be component of digital literacy.
  • Direct debit program for rent can improve accounts receivable.
  • Using mobile work orders– via app or online– can make property maintenance more efficient.
Register for NHC's 6/29 webinar with EveryoneOn to discuss its expansion of "ConnectHome Nation," a national initiative in partnership with the HUD to bridge the digital divide in low-income communities. 

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