Arlington Launches Digital Inclusion Initiative

Published on December 19, 2017

  • Demonstration project will fund wi-fi for Arlington Mill Residences
  • Board approves grant to APAH
  • Leveraging County's ConnectArlington fiber optic network

Arlington will provide a three-year grant under its Arlington Digital Inclusion Initiative that will bring internet access to Arlington Mill Residences' low- and moderate-income tenants by leveraging the County's fiber optic network, ConnectArlington.

"Digital connectivity is essential in today's world," Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said. "This new initiative by the County will start with Arlington Mill Residences, but we hope that over the years, we will be able to extend free or low-cost internet access to more low-income County residences, using ConnectArlington's dark fiber and partners in the community to make that happen."

The County Board voted unanimously to approve the $94,500 grant.

The 122-unit Arlington Mill Residences, owned by the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH), is home to 159 children. Studies have shown that low-income school children often are less likely to own computers and use the Internet than their higher income peers, creating a "homework gap."

The County will use Columbia Pike Tax Increment Financing (TIF) revenues to provide the grant to APAH to offset the cost of equipment and services, including ConnectArlington's dark fiber licensing fees.

As a grant condition, APAH will provide annual performance reports to the County and will develop and administer a survey to help assess the initiative's success. APAH plans to seek private and philanthropic funding sources to continue the program at Arlington Mill Residences and any other APAH-owned properties involved in the Arlington Digital Inclusion Initiative beyond the third and final year of County grant funding. The service is expected to be launched in the third quarter of 2018.

"APAH is thrilled by the County's support for bridging the digital divide for our residents at Arlington Mill," said APAH President and CEO Nina Janopaul. "Half of our residents have no reliable access to the internet. Students use internet portals to complete their homework. Parents need the internet to follow their children's progress in school. Workers need the internet to apply for jobs. This program removes a major barrier for our residents to fully participate in our community."

APAH will provide the internet service through third-party service providers, one of whom who will sign a ConnectArlington dark fiber license agreement with the County to license and light two strands of the County's dark fiber network. APAH also has applied for a Fiscal Year 2019 Community Development Fund grant to provide computer and internet training and notebook computers for Arlington Mill Residents tenants.

The County is exploring other opportunities to expand the initiative with other housing developer partners, with the goal of extending free or affordable broadband connectivity to more low-income County residents by leveraging Connect Arlington's available dark fiber infrastructure and non-profit, commercial and other community partners.

About the Columbia Pike TIF

The County Board established the Columbia Pike TIF in 2014. It includes all properties within the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Special Revitalization District and the Columbia Pike Special Revitalization District Form Based Code boundaries. Within the TIF, 25 percent of tax revenue generated by new development and property appreciation is dedicated to affordable housing along the Pike.

The Board noted that the TIF area was established "to help finance affordable housing initiatives and other public services and improvements as determined by the County Board in support of the Columbia Pike Neighborhoods Area Plan."

Since the TIF area was established, revenues have been used to support a Transit-Oriented Affordable Housing fund to offset affordable housing infrastructure costs and help keep affordable housing projects applying for low-income housing tax credits with the Virginia Housing Development Authority's cost limits. Arlington Mill Residences lies within the TIF area, and the project supports infrastructure improvements for affordable housing.

To read the staff report for this item, scroll down to Item No. 18 on the agenda for the  Tuesday, Dec. 19,, 2017 Regular County Board Meeting.