Login | December 05, 2022

AMHA expanding residential high-speed internet service

Legal News Reporter

Published: May 28, 2021

Barberton residents who live in two Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA) properties will soon have access to free quality internet service without leaving their homes.
It’s all part of AMHA and Building For Tomorrow’s (BFT) ConnectHome Akron Initiative, which seeks to provide reliable service to public housing tenants in Summit County through their ongoing Community Wi-Fi Zone project.
“Studies show that only about 55% of public housing residents in the U.S. have consistent high-speed broadband internet,” said AMHA Resident Services Administrative Analyst Megan Conkle. 
“While the gap in internet service has been an issue for families for some time, the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem,” said Conkle. “Many people are now working from home and need dependable internet service and children rely on the internet for school, among other things. It’s no longer a luxury, but an absolute necessity.”
Since 2017, ConnectHome Akron--a partnership between AMHA, its nonprofit arm Building For Tomorrow and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)--has been working to bridge the “digital divide” in Summit County. 
Programming has included free hotspot lending programs, device distribution days, community Wi-Fi installation and digital literacy training. 
In 2019, high-speed broadband became available in all AMHA public housing community spaces, with officials launching the first in-unit Wi-Fi zones in September 2020 at Stephanie S. Keys Towers in Stow and Pinewood Gardens in Twinsburg.
Officials are on track to finish projects at Paul E. Belcher senior apartments and Edgewood Village senior apartments in Akron by fall.
“When COVID hit and people could not gather, the community spaces we supplied were no longer useful so we quickly pivoted to the in-unit initiative,” said Conkle. “It was already on our agenda to do this, but COVID accelerated our plans.”
The Barberton Wi-Fi Zone Project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2021 and will provide coverage to approximately 329 adults and 463 children living in the 272 AMHA public housing units at Crimson Terrace and Van Buren Homes.
Housing authority officials began discussing the specifics of the Barberton plan in August 2020, enlisting the assistance of Barberton Community Foundation, Barberton City Schools and the city of Barberton to help cover the estimated $153,000 cost of the initiative.
“The project would not have been financially feasible for us without our community partners,” said Conkle. “The Barberton Wi-Fi Zone collaboration isn’t just going to impact the children and adults currently living in our housing, it will also impact all future families who live in our Barberton properties. It is truly a sustainable model.”
AMHA contributed $65,000 in funding, with the school district committing to the second largest amount at $50,000.
“Barberton City School District is thrilled that we could assist our partners at AMHA to provide a permanent Wi-Fi solution for the students and families that reside in the households associated with AMHA,” Barberton City School District Superintendent Jeffrey Ramnytz said in a press release. “The landscape of education has changed because of this pandemic. Even though we will be back in school completely in the fall of 2021, remote learning and support for our students will continue to be a part of what we do every day. It is critical that all students and families have access to Wi-Fi to be successful in the future.”
Barberton Mayor William Judge said officials were “excited” to contribute $20,000 to the effort, which he said “will help our school children and keep them engaged and active with the school system.”
Barberton Community Foundation provided $18,000 toward the cost of the initiative.
“Each year, our organization grants $250,000 for projects that help residents enjoy a better quality of life,” said Barberton Community Foundation Executive Director Suzanne Allen, Ph.D.
“We have three grant cycles annually that are dedicated to various needs in the community and we encourage all nonprofits serving the residents of Barberton to apply. AMHA has been a strong partner of ours and we were pleased to collaborate on a project that fills an important need among low-income families in Barberton.
“Long after COVID is over, families will continue to have access to reliable Wi-Fi, which is not only important for education but also for healthcare, which is being transformed by the world of telemedicine,” said Allen. “The Wi-Fi project will not only benefit our students but also assist our elderly and disabled residents in navigating their healthcare needs through technology.”  
Barberton housing authority resident Brenda said she’s looking forward to the initiative’s completion.
“I recently started a sales job and since I can’t meet with clients in person because of the pandemic I will be doing a lot of the work online,” said Brenda. “My youngest daughter is also searching for work so she needs more reliable Wi-Fi too.
“I think it will help with all aspects of daily living, including keeping up with the news and staying in touch with friends and family.”  
“We have approximately 25,000 people living in AMHA subsidized housing, about half of which live in AMHA public housing,” said Conkle. “Our goal is to equip all of these public housing units with free high-speed internet by 2022.”