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How solar funded Wi-Fi could be the new normal for affordable housing

Residents of 22 buildings in East New York, Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant are about to get free solar-powered WiFi under a new program that could be replicated across the city’s entire affordable housing stock.

Workforce Housing Group (WFHG), a New York-based affordable housing development organization, secured first-of-its-kind financing from the NY Green Bank (NYGB) to install solar panels on 18 of its affordable housing buildings.

The solar arrays will generate clean energy and the savings that creates will go towards repaying the $60 million loan and providing residents with WiFi at no cost.

John A. Crotty, principal, Workforce Housing Group, said, “We came up with this new solar powered community Wi-Fi to utilize both new technology and new financing mechanisms to deliver a sustainable and cost-effective bridge across the digital divide. This is a revolutionary model that can be sustainably replicated across the city and eventually on a national level. Solar Powered Community WIFI should become the new de facto standard for affordable housing.”

WFHG secured the $60 million funding package through NY Green Bank (NYGB) the city and NY State Housing Finance Agency. It included a Morgan Stanley grant that covered the cost of installing Flume Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Additionally, in collaboration with HFA, Workforce Housing refinanced the entire portfolio with $27 million in loans and subsidies to ensure the apartments will remain affordable and stabilized for at least the next 35 years.

RuthAnne Visnauska, NY State Commissioner for Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner, said the state’s investment in the venture is part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s ongoing efforts to create and preserve high-quality, energy-efficient affordable homes and ensure that every New Yorker has access to reliable high-speed home internet service.

She added, “Through the Governor’s Raise the Green Roof initiative, this project will utilize utility savings from rooftop solar panels to provide free broadband to all residents. This holistic approach to providing sustainable affordable housing that delivers essential services is building a more equitable New York for all.”

Andrew Kessler, acting president, NY Green Bank, said the financing structure could serve as a model for further partnership with housing finance agencies and affordable housing developers across the state.

The solar panels will be installed on 18 buildings and the savings will pay for WiFi for 240 apartments across Brooklyn. Renderings via  Helioscope Solar Designs

According to Crotty, the project is revolutionizing the modern affordable housing industry, combating climate change, and taking impactful steps towards digital equity.

He said WFHG has partnered with experts in the space to achieve this goal. Expert partners include Solar One, a not-for-profit organization that fosters sustainability and resiliency in urban environments, and Flume, an internet service provider bringing affordable options for high speed broadband access to residences across NYC and other major U.S. cities.

“This partnership proves that we as a society do not have to accept the status quo. Through all of our combined efforts, we have been able to devise a structure that makes providing high speed internet access to families in need around the city economically and environmentally sustainable. Flume Internet is excited to bring its premium fiber-based home internet service to underserved communities around NYC and beyond,” said Brandon Gibson, co-founder of Flume Internet.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also hailed the development, adding, ” We have seen throughout the pandemic how critical affordable broadband connections are for New Yorkers of all ages and backgrounds, whether for continuing their education, pursuing career opportunities, or enrolling for government services, and I am thrilled that more Brooklynites will have access through this initiative.”

NY Green Bank is a $1 billion, State-sponsored investment fund established to attract private sector capital and accelerate the deployment of clean energy throughout New York State.

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