Children across the country begin a new school year like no other where most of the time spent on instruction will be online learning. For children of residents of public and affordable housing, virtual schooling presents an additional set of challenges.
A new report from the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC) published in August 2020, The 2020 Housing Impact Report: Children. Bridging the Digital Divide, found that families with children who receive federal housing assistance have lower rates of in-home computer access compared to children of renters earning below 150 percent of the poverty line who do not receive federal housing assistance. The “homework gap” that prevents children from completing schoolwork, which has long been an inequitable barrier to education, is now magnified by COVID-19 safety measures that necessitate virtual learning.
To help bridge this digital divide, public housing authorities are collaborating with internet service providers and businesses to provide free or low-cost internet and devices to residents, maintaining on-site computer labs, and partnering with local libraries and non-profits to boost digital literacy among residents.
For example, Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA) has promoted digital inclusion during COVID-19 by transitioning their free internet hotspot-lending program—which allows AMHA residents to borrow donated Sprint hotspots indefinitely—to be contactless. Since the pandemic, AMHA is now investing in postage and shipping envelopes to mail the devices to families rather than handing them out in person. Oakland Housing Authority used CARES Act funding to cover the cost of internet service for residents through December 31, 2020; Elm City Communities (the Housing Authority of New Haven) worked with T-Mobile to provide 100 tablets to residents. These efforts are critical to improving education outcomes for children.
CLPHA works closely with PAHRC to provide in-depth research about cross-sector delivery systems in the education and health care sectors. This work is done under CLPHA’s Housing Is Initiative, which is the preeminent connector in the public housing system with other service delivery systems such as education and healthcare. Housing Is recently partnered with PAHRC on the Platform to Learn report and is pleased to see PAHRC promote the important issue of connectivity in their latest publication.
CLPHA would love to hear from our members about partnerships or initiatives you are undertaking to help the bridge the digital divide and increase Wi-Fi access for children served by your housing authority during the COVID-19 pandemic. To tell us more about this work, email CLPHA Communications Director David Greer at firstname.lastname@example.org.