RealTime IT News

Coalition Targets Digital Divide

A coalition of technology companies, nonprofits and housing developers is launching a two-year initiative to provide broadband connections to 12 million Americans living in government-subsidized housing.

The "Bring IT Home" campaign will encourage developers to integrate high-speed technology into their housing plans by utilizing $20 million in tax credits.

Primary sponsors are National Equity Fund, a syndicator of low-income housing tax credits, and One Economy Corp., which helps bring technology access to low-income housing. The Fannie Mae Foundation and Freddie Mac are also on board.

IT firms involved are: Cisco Systems , eBay , InterActiveCorp, Microsoft , Qwest , Time Warner , Verizon and Yahoo! .

To date, One Economy has worked to amend housing finance policies in 12 states to make Bring IT Home a reality. Twenty-one more states are targeted for this year.

"We've been working on this for eight or nine months and already 12 states have made policy changes," Rey Ramsey, CEO of One Economy, told internetnews.com. "We anticipate more states will change the allocation process for low-income housing."

In a separate statement, Ramsey added, "When you put technology into the home, it becomes a part of your life, then your culture -- IT leads to change."

On a property-by-property basis, One Economy will install high-speed Internet access options for NEF project partners. It could be a simple data network, or a more complete set-up (phone, data and video). Vouchers for computers and training also part being proposed.

NEF has raised approximately $3.6 billion from institutional investors to support the development of more than 56,000 units of affordable housing nationwide. NEF president and CEO Joseph S. Hagan said the One Economy alliance also benefits developers.

"This adds tremendous value to our relationships with the nonprofit organizations and development companies that drive the construction and rehab of affordable housing," Hagan said in a statement. "They want their projects to offer all the benefits of a market-rate development, and One Economy can help them do that."

The Bring IT Home campaign aims to change the way states allocate low income housing tax credits (LIHTC) and other financing tools so that one day all new and rehabilitated housing possess high-speed Internet access in each residential unit. The goal is to have high-speed Internet access considered part of the housing operating budget, like other household utilities.

The LIHTC is a significant financing tool because each year the credit leverages several billion dollars of private investments to produce nearly 125,000 apartments affordable to low-income people.