The San Diego Housing Commission (SDHC) launched a Digital Inclusion Project on February 9, 2021, to help address the “digital divide” between households with access to technology and the internet and those who do not have access. The “digital divide” adversely affects households with low income and reflects inequities in the abilities of these households to access the internet.
SDHC’s Digital Inclusion Project supports SDHC’s commitment to equity and inclusivity, as stated in SDHC’s Strategic Plan, adopted July 9, 2021:
Equity and Inclusivity: At SDHC, we are about people. SDHC embraces diverse approaches and points of view to improve our programs, projects and policies.
- We believe in delivering programs and services in innovative and inclusive ways.
- We are committed to advancing equity and inclusion both internally and externally.
SDHC created a team with staff from multiple departments and developed an initial project plan to identify needs and gaps in service and to identify the next steps necessary to provide broadband services for residents of affordable rental housing units SDHC owns or manages.
SDHC collaborated with the City of Long Beach and adopted best practice resources from their Digital Equity campaign. To increase collaborative efforts, information sharing and awareness, SDHC is also a contributing member of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) Digital Divide Taskforce, San Diego Promise Zone and the SoCal Working Group, which are actively implementing efforts to bridge the digital divide.
SDHC Resident Survey
In June 2021, SDHC surveyed more than 2,000 residents of affordable rental housing units SDHC owns or manages. The paper-based survey was mailed to these residents. Approximately 20 percent—or 400 residents—participated in the survey. Based on their responses:
- 73% of SDHC’s affordable housing residents subscribe with a service provider for broadband access.
- Residents reported their costs are more than $50 a month, with many paying more than $200 a month for bundled services (TV, phone, internet)
- Most SDHC residents use their cell phones for broadband access.
- Most residents use their broadband access to conduct online banking, access government services and connect with family and friends.
- They also use broadband to stream entertainment, order food and access emails
- Most residents reported income of $15,000 or less per year, so broadband costs are a hardship for many.
- Most respondents are 62 or older, and during the COVID-19 pandemic relied more on broadband access for needed services.
- Residents reported having concerns with overall accessibility related to language options and disabilities accommodations, online security, and needing training for better use and understanding of both equipment and internet access.
A majority of residents said the greatest challenge is this objective is ongoing service costs. SDHC is researching potential sources of funding to make these services sustainable for the long-term.
SDHC Affordable Rental Housing Units
SDHC owns or manages 2,401 affordable rental housing units, including 189 federal public housing units, at 150 properties in the City of San Diego. These do not include additional units owned or managed by SDHC’s nonprofit affiliate, Housing Development Partners. SDHC’s affordable housing units are required to have rents that are affordable for households with income up to 80 percent of San Diego’s Area Median Income. The properties include single-family homes, duplexes, single-room occupancy units, and medium- to large-sized multifamily housing properties, as well as garden-style communities. Most of the properties are smaller in size, with 10 to 12 units. At some of the larger properties with more units, on-site computer labs are available for residents. However, the need for more technical support and training and education classes has been identified.
SDHC is exploring opportunities to collaborate with community-based organizations to support and provide education and training programs for SDHC’s residents and expand SDHC’s infrastructure to increase and improve accessibility. Ensuring equitable access and resources regardless of housing type is a key focus; therefore, SDHC is working closely across divisions to ensure different property types are able to support updated broadband access.
Additional collaborations includes work with service providers such as Cox Communications and other organizations that represent sponsored, low-cost broadband access. Collaboration with community-based organizations and nonprofits would also provide:
- computer labs
- device access and training
- community space for trainings
Continuing to raise awareness about the digital divide also helps efforts to implement resources for people SDHC serves. SDHC’s participation in SANDAG’s Digital Divide Taskforce, the San Diego Promise Zone’s Workgroups and the SoCal Transformation Working Group are a few ways SDHC engages in efforts to expand digital equity, inclusion and access.