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How the affordable housing industry can fill broadband gap

Millions of New Yorkers lack adequate access to high-speed internet. This is in large part because families living in low-income areas are inadequately served by the infrastructure that delivers broadband connection.

The impact of the pandemic has emphasized the importance of digital connection as many vital public services, including medicine, education, and even connections with family, have transitioned to the internet. We all must work to close this gap, and the affordable housing industry has a key role to play.

Studies have consistently shown that areas with poor internet service rates correlate closely with areas of high rates of poverty. Additionally, research suggests that low-income households may need to spend as much as 10 percent of their monthly budget to acquire home and mobile broadband connection.

The digital divide in New York is stark. A recent report from Comptroller Stringer found that 29 percent of all households in the five boroughs lack broadband internet access. Certain neighborhoods, including Chinatown (50 percent), Ocean Parkway (46 percent), and East Tremont (43 percent), fare significantly worse than others. The report also found that New Yorkers of color were less likely to have broadband internet access.

This disparity has only made conditions more difficult for low- and middle-income families during the pandemic underscored the importance of digital connections. For example, it is significantly more challenging to schedule a telehealth visit, participate in distance learning at school, or for parents to connect with teachers for virtual parent-teacher conferences without broadband access.

This challenge is not limited to New York City: it is a statewide problem. More than  726,000 school-aged children in New York State lacking adequate access to high-speed internet, which will complicate plans for hybrid schooling plans this fall. Building new affordable homes for families without high-speed internet is an opportunity to expand access to high-speed internet and close this gap.

The good news is that some stakeholders in the housing industry are already stepping up to address this issue. Consider Energy Square, 58-unit mixed-use apartment complex in Kingston developed by RUPCO. It was developed with broadband in mind and ultimately connected the building’s residents, as well as other community members, to modern broadband infrastructure. It is just one example of the ways in which continued expansion of affordable housing production solves other related challenges for families in need.

New Yorkers deserve access to high-speed internet. It is increasingly important to everyday life, especially during the pandemic. The New York State Association for Affordable Housing (NYSAFAH) and its members will ensure that as many of our new developments as possible can help fill the digital divide impacting families in communities across the state.

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