Digital divide narrows for public housing residents

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ELIZABETH, NJ — The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHomeUSA, an initiative aimed at narrowing the digital divide in HUD-assisted communities across the country, selected three new communities in New Jersey to join the 2020 ConnectHomeUSA Community Cohort. The designations will bring technical-assistance resources that will enable public housing authorities in Atlantic City, Elizabeth and Phillipsburg to provide low-cost internet, devices and digital literacy training to its residents.

Through the leadership of national nonprofit EveryoneOn and supported by HUD, ConnectHomeUSA assists selected communities in building place-based solutions for narrowing the digital divide. The digital divide disproportionately affects low-income communities, primarily due to cost. Having an in-home internet connection, a device and the training to use it enables HUD-assisted families, students, seniors and job seekers to access information, employment opportunities and connections that will foster self-sufficiency.

Never before has this initiative been so relevant. For HUD-assisted families in the selected communities that lack internet access and need to work and study remotely due to COVID-19, ConnectHome will connect them to low-cost internet offers through affordable devices, which will be critical to families and students whose lives have been upended by the pandemic, said Lynne Patton, HUD regional administrator for New York and New Jersey. “Broadband access and devices are a lifeline for job seekers and a way for seniors to access telehealth and stay in touch with their families. I congratulate these communities for taking action to improve the lives of their residents.”

ConnectHomeUSA, a public–private collaboration to narrow the digital divide for HUD-assisted residents, creates a platform for community leaders, local governments, nonprofit organizations and private industry to join together and produce locally tailored solutions for narrowing the digital divide.

Communities apply to ConnectHomeUSA, which selects cohorts annually. Designated communities receive:

• Commitments, special offers and resources from ConnectHomeUSA stakeholders, including T-Mobile, Comcast, AT&T, ABC Mouse, Cox and organizations that support learning.
• Direct technical assistance from EveryoneOn and HUD for help with local efforts and best practices.
• Access to a mentorship community to help guide progress.
• Access to the ConnectHomeUSA Portal, which includes resources created and curated for ConnectHomeUSA.
• Data collection and analysis through HUD.
• Exclusive opportunities from EveryoneOn for ConnectHomeUSA communities.
• Monthly webinars and newsletters providing timely guidance and content.
• Annual summits — this year’s summit took place virtually in October.

The Elizabeth Housing Authority is working with the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program. As part of its joint commitment to ConnectHomeUSA, the EHA and NJMEP will work together to help take part in skill-based training that will propel them toward employment opportunities and education. The EHA computer lab will be upgraded. Low-cost, high-speed internet access and devices will allow residents to access and complete job applications, enroll in online classes and training, complete GED requirements, obtain higher education and participate in all aspects of HUD’s Jobs Plus program. The EHA and ConnectHomeUSA initiative will assist residents who, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, must work from home.

“The Housing Authority of the city of Elizabeth is pleased to have been selected to participate in HUD’s ConnectHomeUSA initiative,” said Executive Director William D. Jones. “We plan to leverage such opportunities presented by ConnectHomeUSA to enhance our Jobs Plus Initiative Program and bridge the digital divide. Our goals include the following: To be able to educate our children, to empower our families and to enlighten our seniors. We will also expand our intergenerational technological communications program and tablet distribution to all of our residents so they, too, can have access to online learning and social services during this unprecedented time in our history.”

ConnectHome began as a pilot program in 2015, and HUD and EveryoneOn have worked together to support the 100 selected communities located around the nation.
Successful applicants have a dedicated staff person, a strong relationship with municipal government and programs, committed local partners and robust resident engagement.

The Camden and Newark housing authorities were selected as ConnectHome communities in 2015, and the Jersey City Housing Authority was selected in 2018. The ConnectHomeUSA initiative lasts three years. In 2020, three of only 13 selected communities in the nation were in New Jersey.

Photos Courtesy of LisaMarie Gaeta