The Rocket Community Fund, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, and the Cleveland Foundation have announced a new program called “Neighbor to Neighbor” that aims to bridge the digital divide and address housing instability in Cleveland neighborhoods. Through a door-to-door canvassing effort, organizers will identify resident needs and try to fill them.
“Digital connectivity and lasting housing stability are the twin pillars that provide physical and economic security, as well as the ability to access job training, education, telemedicine, employment, and more,” said Laura Grannemann, vice president of Rocket Community Fund and founder of Neighbor to Neighbor, in a press release.
Through the $1.35 million program, a pilot group of five community development corporations — Bellaire-Puritas Development , Famicos Foundation, Greater Collinwood Community Development, Slavic Village Development, and Midtown Cleveland — will go door to door to assess residents’ needs and educate them on programs they may be eligible for. The goal is to connect residents with the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program, a federal program that subsidizes the cost of internet and technological devices for eligible households. EBB provides a $50 monthly discount for internet access and a one-time $100 subsidy for a laptop.
Cleveland is the only city of more than 100,000 households where more than 30% lack broadband of any type, including cell phone data plans, according to the release. Nearly 46% of Cleveland households lack broadband internet at home — second only to Detroit.
“The digital divide prevents Cleveland residents from accessing meaningful programs, jobs and opportunities — and disproportionately affects our residents of color,” said Leon Wilson, chief of digital innovation and chief information officer for the Cleveland Foundation.
In addition to helping organizers better understand the needs for digital connectivity in the city’s neighborhoods at a grassroots level, Neighbor to Neighbor will also provide residents with information about programs that can help them achieve housing stability. Modeled after a similar program in Detroit, the goal of Neighbor to Neighbor is to help Cleveland residents avoid tax foreclosure, evictions and other instances of housing instability. In Detroit, the program helped achieve a 94% reduction in the number of occupied homes entering property tax foreclosure, and enabled more than 1,150 renters at risk of displacement to become owners of their homes, according to the release.
“Through door to door outreach, we’ve been able to reach 60,000 households in Detroit,” said Laura Grannemann at a press conference. “We found that many residents were largely not aware of the property tax exemptions that would allow them to stay in their homes. We also created another program which allows residents to purchase homes that are in tax foreclosure for an average of $3,500.”
Tania Menesse, president and CEO of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, said that the program will help the CDC network expand its outreach into communities, better understand resident needs, and customize efforts to help them. Neighbor to Neighbor will expand to 11 CDCs across the city in spring 2022.
Leon Wilson, chief of digital innovation at the Cleveland Foundation, said that since the Covid-19 pandemic, the foundation has pivoted to helping connect more homes to the internet, and the Neighbor to Neighbor program is part of that. “We need to make sure no one is left behind,” he said.
When asked at the press conference how Neighbor to Neighbor dovetails with other efforts to bridge the digital divide in Cleveland, Wilson said that Neighbor to Neighbor will be part the Cleveland Digital Equity Coalition, a collaborative of groups working together on this issue. However, he did not address the question of how this effort fits in with the city of Cleveland’s recent allocation of $20 million of federal ARPA relief funds for citywide broadband.
Lee Chilcote is editor of The Land.