A new programme is being launched to provide free Wi-Fi and broadband access for affordable housing residents in 22 Brooklyn buildings, funded through savings from solar energy. The approach could be replicated elsewhere in New York and across the US.
Workforce Housing Group secured a loan from the state-sponsored NY Green Bank to cover the upfront costs of solar panel installation on 18 of its affordable housing buildings across Brooklyn.
The repayments will be offset by the expected utility bill savings, and additional savings from solar generation will be used to provide free Wi-Fi and premium broadband access for 220 households in 22 buildings in East New York, Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant.
John A. Crotty, Principal at 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.”
Crotty is also a founder of Small Axe Peppers. The organisation buys peppers from community gardens and turns them into hot sauce to support the urban schemes. Named after a Bob Marley song, Small Axe Peppers started in 2014 in The Bronx and has now expanded to work with over 75 community gardens in 15 US cities.
Applying similar lateral thinking, Crotty said solar financing and the pandemic-induced urgency around affordable connectivity have created a “convergence moment”.
“This is a revolutionary model that can be sustainably replicated across the city and eventually on a national level,” he commented. “Solar-powered community Wi-Fi should become the new de facto standard for affordable housing.”
New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas said: “This holistic approach to providing sustainable affordable housing that delivers essential services is building a more equitable New York for all.”
Non-profit Solar One partnered with Workforce Housing Group on solar analysis, consultation and procurement. Morgan Stanley provided a grant for the upfront costs for wiring Flume internet services throughout the 22 buildings.
Brandon Gibson, Co-founder of Flume, a fibre optic internet service provider which launched in 2020 and runs connections over cities’ existing assets, said his company is in talks with banks to bring similar solar-funded schemes to more housing developments in the US.
“It’s a win-win for buildings, for tenants and for us to be able to create a scalable, replicable model in and around the country,” he commented.
Flume was among the vendors recently selected by New York to provide free and affordable services in public housing developments, following a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) as part of the city’s Internet Master Plan.
The company has also recently signed a fibre-to-the-home agreement with East Hartford, Connecticut.