In the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, nearly 40% of low-income households don’t have internet access. It’s a challenge across many parts of New York City that became especially apparent during the pandemic, when many children were loaned laptops for distance learning but couldn’t log on to use them. But some affordable apartment buildings in the area will soon begin offering free Wi-Fi—funded through solar power on the roof.
“We wanted to do a big solar install, and at the same time, others were talking about Wi-Fi,” says John Crotty, principal at the Workforce Housing Group, the affordable housing development organization that is launching the new program in Crown Heights and in the nearby neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and East New York. “I thought, Why don’t we put the savings into Wi-FI?”
The solar panels are being funded in part by a loan from NY Green Bank, a state-sponsored investment fund focused on adding clean energy. (Other state green banks provide similar loans to help spur solar installation.) The New York State Housing Finance Agency is also providing funds. In total, the affordable housing organization will install solar panels on 18 of the buildings it manages. The savings in the electric bills from common areas is expected to be enough to cover the cost of the loan payments, and there will be enough extra to cover adding free high-speed broadband access in 22 buildings.
For low-income tenants who have internet now, the new offering will eliminate a monthly bill—something that can be critical for people who may be struggling to afford other necessities, such as food. Crotty hopes that the program inspires other affordable housing organizations to copy the idea. “There’s no point in doing this in a vacuum,” he says. “Everyone should go do this. They should know about it.”