Broadband Challenges and Opportunities in Affordable Rental Housing

Experts and internet service providers discuss expanding access, adoption for low-income households

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Broadband Challenges and Opportunities in Affordable Rental Housing
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Jahi Chikwendiu The Washington Post via Getty Images


Broadband is no longer a luxury that only a few people need; it is a critical service that supports Americans’ economic opportunity, health, education, recreation, and well-being. Yet in federally subsidized multifamily housing—which refers broadly to rental units other than single-family homes that are supported by federal funding—many residents do not have access to any internet connection, let alone a high-speed connection that can facilitate contemporary online activities, such as telework. Further, many residents of federally subsidized multifamily housing, also called affordable rental housing, who do have broadband connections struggle to afford the monthly subscription cost. Still others often lack the devices and digital skills needed to connect to the internet and succeed in the digital age.

To learn more about the challenges and opportunities related to connecting households in federally subsidized multifamily housing, The Pew Charitable Trusts interviewed experts in housing, broadband, and digital equity, as well as personnel from federal and state agencies that provide funding for development and operation of affordable housing. Pew also received responses to a set of emailed questions from three internet service providers (ISPs): two large national ISPs and a fixed wireless provider that has partnered with affordable housing providers to serve residents. This research primarily focused on place-based multifamily housing programs subsidized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but interviewees also addressed other programs, including the Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, administered by the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Housing Service. Many of the findings apply to all these types of housing.

This brief outlines the results of Pew’s research and explores strategies to boost broadband access and adoption in federally subsidized multifamily housing.

Challenges in affordable housing broadband access

Most households in the U.S. now have a home broadband subscription. However, many Americans living in federally subsidized multifamily housing remain unconnected—with no internet access—or under-connected, meaning they have only limited access, such as via a smartphone. In 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, the ConnectHome Baseline Internet Access Survey—which asked 22 participating communities about their experiences with HUD’s ConnectHome (now called ConnectHomeUSA) program—found that only about a third of households living in public housing subscribed to high-speed internet.

The reasons for this low level of connectivity include a lack of wiring for broadband in older buildings, outdated networks that have not been upgraded, and low-quality or unaffordable service. And although the survey data covers only public housing, these challenges also exist in other federally subsidized multifamily housing.

In interviews with Pew, broadband and housing experts repeatedly noted that addressing residents’ broadband access challenges was already becoming a priority for affordable housing providers before 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it a necessity as Americans pivoted to online work, learning, health care services, social events, and other essential activities. The pandemic lockdowns also accelerated the transition away from community technology centers—which provide computer and Wi-Fi access to community residents in a shared accessible location, such as a building’s common room—to in-unit access, another change that Pew’s interviewees said was underway before the pandemic. Even as interviewees strongly emphasized the importance of in-unit broadband access, many also highlighted the ongoing role that community technology centers play as shared social spaces, and places where residents can receive digital skills training.

A legacy of housing discrimination

Poor broadband access for residents of affordable rental housing has its roots in historical “redlining” practices by which the federal government assessed neighborhood-level mortgage lending risk. Using red lines on a map, federal agencies systematically designated minority neighborhoods, particularly in Black communities, as high-risk, encouraging lending discrimination that, in turn, denied generations of families the opportunity to purchase homes and build wealth.

The legacy of redlining has been tied to persistently lower rates of homeownership, higher levels of racial segregation and economic inequality, greater exposure to environmental hazards than the national averages, limited access to health care and educational opportunities, and, in recent decades, a lack of investment in broadband networks. Much of the nation’s federally subsidized housing stock is concentrated in these redlined communities.

Because internet deployment in the U.S. follows a private-sector model in which ISPs invest in new and upgraded infrastructure based on the estimated returns, those investments typically flow into wealthier neighborhoods, and areas lacking in affordable, reliable broadband often overlap with historically redlined neighborhoods. As one study noted, “There remain neighborhood-based differences in in-home broadband access correlated with past racist and classist housing practices.” And another study found that in Los Angeles County, “broadband investments are bypassing areas that combine poverty and a relatively large share of Black residents.”

The result of this persistent lack of investment is inequitable access, with higher prices and slower service in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods. For instance, a study of four ISPs across 38 cities found that the companies routinely provided lower levels of service in neighborhoods with lower median household incomes and higher proportions of non-White residents than in nearby higher- income and predominantly White neighborhoods for the same price.

Many of the experts whom Pew interviewed said that ISPs have not made investments in federally subsidized multifamily housing because those properties do not meet the companies’ requirements for return on investment. Several interviewees said that although fiber—the fastest-available broadband technology—may be installed near a given federally subsidized housing property, the subsidized building or buildings may not be connected. And if the ISP will not extend service to the building, the substantial costs fall on property owners, who generally cannot afford it. As one interview participant explained, “The ISPs have seen it not worth the investment to put wiring into these places. Sometimes there’s been wiring in the past, but it just hasn’t been updated in decades, and so it’s no longer able to kind of meet the definition of broadband.”

However, although ISP investments in low-income communities have lagged those in wealthier areas, several interviewees emphasized that federally subsidized multifamily housing is potentially a large market for ISPs. As one housing expert observed, “I think they stand to make a lot of money, the ISPs, by expanding their customer base.”

Other challenges mentioned in the interviews included exclusive marketing or revenue sharing agreements between ISPs and property owners that may interfere with or even prohibit additional investment, or difficulties offering service because property owners restrict access to buildings.

Lack of affordability hinders adoption

The monthly cost of a broadband subscription is another barrier for lower-income Americans, so, not surprisingly, home broadband adoption is correlated with household income. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that in 2021, 43% of adults with annual household incomes under $30,000 did not have a home broadband subscription, compared with just 8% of those with incomes of more than $75,000 a year. Cost-related considerations are the primary reason cited for nonadoption by over one-quarter of adults without home broadband access: 45% of people without home broadband cited the high monthly cost of a connection as a reason for nonadoption, and 37% cited the cost of a computer.

Residents of affordable rental housing have limited incomes, so obtaining an individual broadband subscription poses a significant financial challenge. Although many federal housing programs set eligibility at 80% of median family income for an area, most households receiving federal housing assistance fall far below that threshold, earning up to 50% or 30% of local median family income (referred to as “very” and “extremely” low-income, respectively). In 2016, the average household living in public housing had an annual income of just $14,444.

Interviewees said most subsidized housing residents could afford just $10 a month or less for broadband, which is consistent with other research findings. A National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) survey of offline households, conducted in 2021, found that the mean price that respondents said they could pay was $10, but a majority said zero. And in a 2021 EveryoneOn survey of households with annual incomes of less than $50,000, 40% of respondents said they could not afford to pay for high-speed internet, and another 22% were comfortable paying only about $25 a month. With monthly broadband bills averaging $50 to nearly $70 nationally and sometimes reaching as high as $85 with taxes and fees, broadband access may be out of reach for these households without subsidies.

Low-income residents who do subscribe to broadband are often “subscription vulnerable,” meaning that they are at increased risk of canceling their subscriptions to afford other expenses. In early 2021, 34% of households with home broadband subscriptions and incomes below $30,000 a year said they had trouble paying for broadband service during the pandemic. Several of Pew’s interviewees discussed how broadband fits into the overall portfolio of household expenses, explaining that although residents may recognize the value of broadband, they will not prioritize it over essentials such as rent, food, and health care.

Broadband benefits residents of affordable housing

Interviewees discussed a range of benefits that come from improved broadband access at the household and property levels. However, they also identified several challenges to improving access and adoption that must be addressed in tandem to achieve the three pillars of digital equity: affordable connections, access to devices, and digital skills. Individuals need these three things to fully participate in modern society.

Household benefits

At the household level, interviewees cited several key benefits of broadband: reduced isolation and increased social connection; support for aging in place; access to education, health care and wellness, workforce development opportunities, and financial services; and ability to find and apply for jobs. Research has found that internet access has positive impacts on student achievement and health outcomes and can facilitate access to educational opportunities and support healthy aging. Broadband can be particularly important for connecting low-income households with job opportunities and has been shown to boost employment. One study found that individuals enrolled in Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which provides low-cost broadband to eligible low-income households, were 4.4 percentage points more likely to be employed. And a study from Philadelphia found that workers without a broadband-connected home computer had an unemployment rate that was 7 percentage points higher than those with a home broadband connection. Nationwide, the difference was 4 percentage points.

Several interviewees also noted the significance of broadband for entertainment and recreation. As one interviewee stated, “There’s a moral argument in that low-income people deserve to do whatever they want on the internet, too, not just for all the critical things, like health and education. You should be able to sit down and stream a video with your kid if you want to, or by yourself.”

Resident services and building operations benefits

Broadband is important not only directly for residents, but also for the management and operation of affordable housing properties and the services that residents receive. For example, in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, HUD authorized public housing agencies (PHAs)—local agencies that administer public housing properties—to conduct many functions virtually that previously could be done only in person, such as resident briefings, hearings and housing counseling, and unit inspections. And interviewees noted the importance of broadband for enabling a range of online operations and services during the pandemic, including rent payments and maintenance requests; the use of smart devices to improve energy efficiency and cut utility costs; resident health care assessments; job and training resources; financial literacy courses; and GED or certificate preparatory classes.

Many of these services and management functions have remained online as the pandemic has waned because virtual systems provide more flexibility and accessibility to residents. Housing and digital equity interviewees emphasized that broadband is especially critical for supportive services, and several interviewees also mentioned that investment in broadband infrastructure projects presents opportunities to create jobs for people in the community.

Challenges to broadband access for federally subsidized housing residents

Interviewees cited multiple barriers that residents of federally subsidized multifamily housing face in getting online, in addition to affordability.

  • Digital skills training. Residents of HUD-assisted housing are disproportionately people over 65, people with disabilities, or people with limited English proficiency—groups that are already less likely than the national average to have a broadband connection. These residents have a heightened need for digital skills training and may require repeated help accessing the internet. One interviewee said that people can benefit most from learning technology from another person, and this is especially true for older Americans.
  • Access to devices. Getting online requires access to an internet-enabled device. Existing subsidies—such as the $100 discount toward the purchase of a computer or tablet provided through the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which was created under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)—are one-time benefits that give households only a single device and may fall short of meeting families’ needs. Subsidy amounts may be too low to cover the cost of a device, and most subsidy programs do not account for the need to regularly upgrade devices or to provide devices for multiple household members. Interviewees also highlighted the need for devices that meet residents’ needs. For instance, residents with disabilities may need accessibility features, but these may not be covered by general device distribution programs. Similarly, non-English-speaking residents will need translated training materials and devices that support other languages.
  • Lack of trust. Several interviewees said that many affordable housing residents harbor a deep mistrust of ISPs because of past experiences with unexpected fees and disconnection of service. They also emphasized that because gaining residents’ trust is essential to the success of any affordability or adoption program, cultural awareness and sensitivity are critical, and housing providers and ISPs should work with community partners who can serve as trusted messengers to convey program information to residents. Housing providers may already have some level of trust with residents that they can build on, and resident leaders may be able to effectively spread the word to their fellow residents about available offers. These efforts can increase adoption and improve outcomes for residents.

Further, although many property owners recognize the value of broadband connections, many federally subsidized multifamily properties face unique challenges in getting infrastructure installed and helping residents get online, housing experts say.

  • Building age and type. Much of the affordable housing stock predates broadband: For instance, 51% of public housing units were built before 1975. Interviewees identified several barriers to broadband deployment associated with building age, construction, and condition. Additionally, some buildings have never been wired for broadband, while others have outdated wiring and use older technologies that cannot meet modern needs. And concrete walls can inhibit wireless signal penetration.

    Further, retrofitting an older property to update or install new wiring is prohibitively expensive for most housing providers, and they cannot raise rents to cover the costs. “Scattered site” or garden-style apartments are particularly challenging, because wiring multiple buildings spread over a large area adds to the cost, while environmental factors, such as trees and uneven terrain, may limit the available solutions. HUD-assisted housing in particular often does not have enough funding for capital expenditures to address building issues that hinder broadband access.
  • Resource constraints. Although interviewees cited the need for housing providers to have personnel available to help residents get online, many providers do not have adequate capacity. As a result, the burden of helping residents access subsidies and troubleshoot technical problems often falls on resident services staff or service coordinators. Housing stakeholders interviewed stated that housing providers need dedicated funding to hire full-time digital navigators.

Federal programs aim to address connectivity issues

The federal government has more than half a dozen programs administered by various agencies—­ including HUD, NTIA, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—that provide support for expanded broadband access and adoption in affordable rental housing. Many of Pew’s interviewees discussed the need for better collaboration among these multiple agencies and programs, and housing experts emphasized the need for greater interagency collaboration on installation of broadband infrastructure throughout HUD’s portfolio of properties. As one interviewee put it, “This is an intersectional challenge that the whole of government needs to respond to.”

HUD programs

HUD has been working to address the lack of broadband in its properties for nearly a decade, but the demands of—and additional funding arising from—the pandemic have spurred the department to embrace new approaches in recent years.


HUD launched its ConnectHomeUSA program in 2015 in recognition of the problems that the lack of broadband access presents for residents of federally subsidized multifamily housing. The program facilitates partnerships among ISPs, philanthropic and other partners, and PHAs to provide low-cost internet, devices, and digital literacy training to HUD-assisted households and, as of January 2023, has reached more than 100 communities throughout the country. Interviewees praised ConnectHomeUSA for its strong national brand, which can attract partners and philanthropic investment, and for building a practitioner community and providing a playbook for PHAs working on connectivity challenges.

However, interviewees pointed out that ConnectHomeUSA does not provide any funding, which limits its reach and impact; that the program admits a relatively few housing providers each year and effectively only PHAs; and that it could do more to incorporate other types of federally subsidized housing as well. Interviewees also said that HUD could take more of a leadership role on broadband expansion, such as better leveraging ConnectHomeUSA to set clear standards for PHAs.

Housing funds

HUD has used pandemic funding to accelerate its investments in broadband deployment and digital equity efforts. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act appropriated $685 million to HUD’s Public Housing Operating Fund—money that HUD provides to PHAs for the operation and maintenance of public housing units—and $5 billion to the department’s Community Development Fund (CDF). In January 2021, HUD issued guidance allowing PHAs to use these additional operating funds to support in-unit broadband access for residents. And the department has used the CDF funding to increase the resources available through the Community Development Block Grant program for projects and activities, such as expanding broadband access, that “address community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community for which other funding is not available.”

But despite the historic amount of federal money available, interviewees emphasized that funding remains limited, and broadband expansion is competing with basic maintenance for resources in many communities within the HUD portfolio. For instance, although providing internet access and ongoing service to public housing residents is now an allowable use of money from HUD’s Public Housing Capital and Operating Funds, these resources—even with the additional appropriation under the CARES Act—are already severely underfunded, leaving basic maintenance and habitability needs unmet. In that context, housing providers are unlikely to divert these funds away from pressing issues, such as removing mold and lead paint, to address broadband access needs.

Another problem is that broadband is not included in HUD’s utility allowance. The department’s total per-resident payment to property owners includes shelter and utilities—such as electricity, gas, and water—so residents can essentially deduct those utility costs from their monthly rent. But because broadband is not covered, residents incur the full monthly internet subscription cost, which can be prohibitive for low-income households. Many interviewees, but especially those from state housing finance agencies, mentioned the need for HUD to treat broadband as a utility for the purposes of requiring that it be provided and including it in calculations of fair market rents and rental assistance reimbursements. As one interviewee said, “It has gone beyond the stage of being a luxury to the stage of being a must-have. You can’t really have housing today without broadband.” But despite the prevailing view, shared by everyone interviewed, that broadband is essential in all modern housing, current funding rules do not include it as an essential utility.

Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act programs

Through the IIJA, Congress established several major programs to address broadband deployment and affordability, as well as digital literacy needs. Interviewees emphasized the particular importance of two of these: the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program (BEAD) and ACP for connecting residents of affordable rental housing to broadband service.


Congress created the $42.45 billion BEAD program to support planning, network deployment, and adoption efforts. NTIA administers the program and will allocate funding of at least $100 million to each state and $25 million each to territories. The remaining funds will be allocated to states and territories based on their share of the nation’s unserved locations. The BEAD funding is complemented by $2.75 billion in Digital Equity Act (DEA) Programs from the IIJA to support the development and implementation of digital equity plans. NTIA is encouraging states to coordinate their BEAD and DEA planning efforts.

BEAD includes several provisions that can support internet service for federally subsidized properties. For instance, the program defines “unserved” and “underserved” at the address level rather than by neighborhood or census tract—making individual buildings without a connection eligible for funding even when the surrounding areas have service. BEAD also designates “installing internet and Wi-Fi infrastructure or providing reduced-cost broadband within a multifamily residential building” as a goal, with priority placed on properties where most households are low-income. And further, the program allows states to allocate funding to digital literacy, digital navigators, and other forms of sign-up assistance, as well as subsidies to offset the monthly cost of a connection, all of which are important for residents of federally subsidized multifamily housing, interviewees said.

Although interviewees were optimistic about the opportunities that BEAD presents, they also identified several potential problems. Two interview participants mentioned data challenges and the issue of demonstrating that a property is unserved or underserved. And others observed that even when funding is available to cover the capital costs of infrastructure, paying for ongoing service provision remains a concern. As one housing interviewee explained, multifamily property owners “may be able to provide an upfront cost, but maintaining a network for years is very expensive, and in the affordable housing field, there’s not available profits to tap into to help shoulder those costs.”

Interviewees also expressed concerns about the structure of the BEAD program. To receive funding, states must prepare a five-year action plan that identifies broadband needs and priorities and outlines goals and strategies to address those needs with available state and federal resources. However, because BEAD leaves these decisions to the states, these plans—and the priorities and objectives they enumerate—are likely to vary significantly across states and may not all give sufficient attention to the needs of affordable housing residents. Interviewees emphasized that it is critical for states to engage housing stakeholders and factor connecting affordable rental properties into their plans.

Affordable Connectivity Program

The FCC administers the $14 billion ACP, which provides up to $30 monthly ($75 on Tribal lands) to low-income households for use toward the monthly cost of a broadband connection. The program also includes funding to eligible governmental and nongovernmental entities for outreach grants to help raise awareness of, and connect eligible households to, program benefits. In December 2021, ACP replaced the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a $3.2 billion program created through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that provided up to $50 monthly ($75 on Tribal lands) to low-income households. Many ISPs now offer plans that are free to households that qualify for program benefits, but analysts project that ACP will run out of funding by 2024.

Interviewees said that ACP represents a significant opportunity to connect more low-income households to broadband but that outreach and enrollment issues have undermined the program’s impact. Several interviewees said that many eligible households are not aware of the program and that the enrollment process is cumbersome. One digital equity stakeholder said that, at best, enrolling one person takes about 45 minutes and that many residents need help, which adds time. Others noted that some residents do not have the required documentation readily available or need language support that is not offered. As one housing provider said, “These are folks who have already proven they’re poor many times, just to live where they are. … And so to ask them to do it one more time in a difficult way, in a format … that they don’t have access to is not a feasible way to scale this as a solution.” Simplifying the ACP enrollment process would enable more affordable housing residents to access this important benefit.

Findings from a 2021 survey of households with annual incomes of $50,000 or less align with these concerns, showing that most respondents were unaware of the free and discounted internet plans available to them. Further, many survey respondents who were aware of the discount program and its benefits said the program was difficult to use and reported struggling with the sign-up process or being unable to prove their eligibility.

Another potential enrollment challenge is the lack of trust among some affordable rental housing residents who have previously had bad experiences with ISPs, such as unexpected costs, or service that did not meet their household needs. Pew’s interviewees said that ACP will need to increase outreach and streamline its processes to address these awareness and enrollment problems and emphasized the importance of trusted messengers to explain ACP to residents and allay their concerns.

Many of these challenges mirror those of the FCC’s Lifeline program, another federal broadband subsidy. Lifeline provides eligible households with up to $9.25 a month ($34.25 on Tribal lands) to use for broadband access, but the program has suffered from low enrollment rates and insufficient outreach and adoption efforts. Among enrolled households, the benefit has primarily been used for mobile connections.

In addition, interviewees said that the structure of ACP is not efficient for federally assisted housing. Congress designed the benefit to enable individual eligible households to sign up directly with a participating provider. But in federally assisted housing, all residents qualify, because receiving federal housing assistance is itself proof of ACP eligibility, so interviewees lamented that ACP does not provide a way to assign blanket eligibility to and enroll an entire building.

One housing expert pointed out that housing providers do not administer most other resident services on a household-by-household basis and that a buildingwide approach is critical to scalability and efficiency. This concern was echoed by another housing expert, who said that although ACP’s system puts the onus on the individual, tying the benefit to the unit rather than the resident may make more sense and could alleviate some of the technological barriers in federally assisted housing. For instance, a propertywide approach could enable property owners to deploy a single Wi-Fi network that every resident has access to, paid for with residents’ collective ACP benefits, obviating the need to wire every unit and sparing residents the trouble of signing up and paying for a broadband subscription individually.

Some ISP representatives interviewed also mentioned challenges with the ACP program. Echoing issues raised by housing and digital equity stakeholders, one interviewee cited “onerous individual eligibility requirements,” and an interviewee from one large national ISP observed that because the program offers only an individual benefit, ACP subsidies cannot be used for bulk purchasing agreements in which a single bill covers a whole PHA.

Considerations for policymakers

Improving broadband access for households living in affordable rental housing is a multifaceted challenge that requires investments in infrastructure, affordability, device access, and digital skills for high-need populations. And to ensure that these investments are as effective as possible, policymakers and housing providers will need to determine whether the goal is equal access or equitable access—that is, whether to provide the same type of connection for all households or to provide individual households with the connections they are most likely to use.

The opportunities, challenges, and key issues raised in Pew’s interviews offer several considerations to help answer that key question:

Let the setting determine the solution. Although policymakers should look for replicable and scalable solutions to connect residents of affordable rental housing, the lack of broadband is ultimately a property-level challenge. What works for one property may be impractical for another. Solutions must consider the housing type, property age, subsidy type, geographic context, and local broadband service availability, among other factors. The constant refrain from interviewees was that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and that policymakers must engage with residents and housing providers in project planning to find the approach that best meets each community’s needs.

Address all three pillars of digital equity. Efforts to connect residents of federally subsidized multifamily housing need to comprehensively address affordable broadband service, device access, and residents’ digital skills needs. Access alone is not helpful if residents do not have the devices and skills necessary to use the new connections. As policymakers look at solutions for connecting communities, these issues should be assessed together, rather than sequentially or as distinct challenges. The IIJA broadband programs provide concurrent funding for infrastructure and adoption measures, and their coordinated planning processes are steps in this direction.

Rely on what works. Housing experts noted that federally subsidized housing communities provide a particularly valuable opportunity to meet people where they are. Housing providers have resources on site; offer training, briefings, and other supports for residents; and often work with community partners whom residents trust. Programs focused on expanding broadband should seek to leverage rather than duplicate or replace these resources to help residents get connected. Although many HUD programs offer opportunities to expand broadband access, they are generally underfunded relative to the scale of the need. Expanding existing programs that fund and facilitate connections for low-income populations and affordable housing residents will go far toward enabling meaningful use of broadband by residents.

Coordinate and collaborate across governments. Improving broadband for residents of affordable rental housing requires coordination across multiple complex federal, state, Tribal, and local funding programs. Streamlining these programs and ensuring that they complement, rather than conflict with, one another will help to enable maximum impact.

Sustain investments. To date, many programs focused on bringing broadband to affordable rental housing residents have been unfunded or supported with temporary grant funding. These programs have been important for getting unconnected households online, but maintaining these connections will require continued funding and other resources. Housing providers will not be able to take responsibility for getting and keeping residents connected without permanent, dedicated funding. Policymakers should consider where ongoing funding is needed, such as for network operations, device upgrades over time, and dedicated staff at the property or PHA level to support residents as they enroll in ACP or other affordability offers, troubleshoot technology problems, and build digital skills.


Increased public and policymaker attention on—and federal funding for—expanding broadband access nationwide presents a critical opportunity to get residents of federally subsidized multifamily housing sustainably connected to affordable, reliable high-speed internet service. To ensure that federal, Tribal, state, and local efforts to leverage these new resources are successful, policymakers must recognize and address the particular obstacles that affordable housing residents face in getting a broadband connection. And that, in turn, means acknowledging that no single solution will work for all affordable housing residents or properties and that no one-time fix can close the digital divide.

Instead, meeting this challenge will require a continued commitment from leaders at all levels of government; early and ongoing engagement with residents, property owners, and other stakeholders; and sustained funding sufficient to provide low-income households with the affordable connections, devices, and skills they need to enjoy the full benefits of broadband.

Expert reviewers

This issue brief benefited from the thoughtful feedback of Andy Winkler, director of housing and infrastructure projects, Bipartisan Policy Center; Liz Gabbitas, digital access and education program manager, Utah State Library Division; and Tamarah Holmes, director, Virginia Office of Broadband. Although they reviewed the draft and findings, neither they nor their organizations necessarily endorse the conclusions.


This issue brief was prepared for Pew by Anna Read and Kelly Wert. The project team would like to thank the housing experts, digital equity experts, and representatives of state and federal funding agencies and ISPs who provided their time and expertise. The team also thanks Pew colleagues Jennifer V. Doctors, Maddy Dwyer, Shamyra Edmonds, Sarah Jones, and Matt Moser for their editing and production assistance on this report.

Appendix: Methodology

For this issue brief, Pew researchers conducted a review of the relevant literature on housing and digital equity, and semistructured interviews with experts from 14 organizations focused on affordable housing and digital equity. The interviewees included professionals who work directly with affordable housing residents and representatives from national public policy organizations and can be categorized as housing experts, digital equity experts, and representatives of funding or financing agencies. The findings are attributed not to specific interviewees, but rather by category (e.g., “housing expert,” “federal funding agency,” “digital equity expert”).

In addition, Pew’s researchers sent questions by email to six internet service providers: the four largest national ISPs, a national fixed wireless provider, and two fixed wireless providers that have partnered with affordable housing providers. Two of the national ISPs and one fixed wireless provider sent responses.

The interviewees were:


Council of Large Public Housing Authorities—Janelle Scott, Abra Lyons-Warren, Malcolm Guy

LeadingAge—Juliana Bilowich

Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future—Lucas Asher, Alexandra Nassau-Brownstone

Urban Institute—Susan J. Popkin

Digital equity

City of Detroit—Joshua Edmonds

EducationSuperHighway—Kat Aquino, Jack Lynch

EveryoneOn—Diana Rodriguez, Kurt Peluso

National Digital Inclusion Alliance—Munirih Santiago Jester

National Urban League—Alisa Valentin

Funding/financing agencies

Idaho Housing and Finance Association—Gerald M. Hunter

Kansas Housing Resources Corp.—Ryan Vincent, Laurie Fritz, Alissa Ice

MassHousing—Mark Teden, Henry Mukasa, Kara Pillsbury Johnson

USDA Rural Development Pennsylvania—Bob Morgan, Daniel Blottenberger

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development—Dina Lehmann-Kim

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Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as “superbugs,” are a major threat to modern medicine. But how does resistance work, and what can we do to slow the spread? Read personal stories, expert accounts, and more for the answers to those questions in our four-week email series: Slowing Superbugs.