WASHINGTON— In-home Internet access is associated with greater student achievement, improved health outcomes, less social isolation and increased economic growth. Yet 37 percent of extremely low-income renters do not have a computer at home and 54 percent do not have in-home Internet access. Two new case studies released today by the Center for Housing Policy at the National Housing Conference demonstrate how affordable housing developments are realizing the significant benefit access to Internet can have on the overall health and well-being of residents. The case studies highlight a broadband connectivity program in Austin, Texas, through the city’s housing authority in partnership with Google Fiber and reveal the importance of in-home Internet access for older adults, as demonstrated through Eden Housing’s Cottonwood Place development in Fremont, Calif.
“In-home Internet access really plays a significant role in the emotional and social wellbeing of residents,” said case study author and NHC Research Associate Mindy Ault. “Children are better able to keep up with school work, adults have an easier time job searching online and older adults can communicate with doctors and find relief from social isolation.”
Social isolation is a leading contributor to poor mental and physical health outcomes among older adults. In-home Internet access allows them to communicate with friends, family and health care providers in a way that provides a greater sense of closeness than a telephone call and helps address transportation and mobility challenges. Recent research from the Pew Research Center found that while the number of older adults using the Internet is growing, usage rates decline with income. Of older adults with incomes under $30,000, only 25 percent have access to in-home broadband Internet, compared with 82 percent of older adults who make $75,000 or more.
Cottonwood Place, a mixed-use development for low-income seniors, provides broadband Internet access to residents free of charge. Cottonwood’s developer, Eden Housing, provides each unit with a free modem and includes the cost of wired broadband access in its budget. Through its Communities Wired! initiative, Eden Housing offers a digital literacy curriculum, which teaches residents how to access and benefit from the broadband connection. Additionally, the initiative offers low-cost options to residents who wish to purchase an Internet device.
Austin’s Unlocking the Connection Initiative
With Google Fiber bringing its fiber-optic network to Austin, TX and awarding free broadband connectivity to 100 community institutions, the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) saw an opportunity to expand Internet access to public housing residents in their homes. Through its Unlocking the Connection initiative, HACA has partnered with Google Fiber, Austin Community College, and other community institutions and private companies to offer free high-speed Internet access for 10 years to residents in all HACA properties.
“Offering free broadband Internet connections to HACA residents will allow lower-income households to access the social benefits of an in-home connection. In 2013, fewer than 30 percent of HACA’s residents owned an Internet device, and of those who did, only 28 percent had in-home Internet access. Now fiber-optic cables and Internet modems have been installed at the first HACA property, and digital literacy training has begun at two properties,” said Ault.
NHC’s Connectivity Working Group convened to recommend policy changes to help close the digital divide. Read the list of policy recommendations here. Read NHC’s previous research on Internet access for low-income renters here.
About the National Housing Conference:
The National Housing Conference represents a diverse membership of housing stakeholders including tenant advocates, mortgage bankers, nonprofit and for-profit home builders, property managers, policy practitioners, Realtors®, equity investors, and more, all of whom share a commitment to safe, decent and affordable housing for all in America. We are the nation’s oldest housing advocacy organization, dedicated to the affordable housing mission since our founding in 1931. We are a nonpartisan, 501(c)3 nonprofit that brings together our broad-based membership to advocate on housing issues. Learn more at nhc.org.
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