Connecting Families to Opportunity

Unlocking the Connection is a collaborative effort to bridge the digital divide for the more than 4,300 public housing residents of all ages who reside in 18 housing developments throughout Austin owned and operated by the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA).

Grounded in HACA’s 2013 Strategic Plan and led by HACA’s non profit subsidiary Austin Pathways, Unlocking the Connection aims to raise family self-sufficiency through digital inclusion. The City of Austin, Google Fiber and Austin Community College are a few of the partners that helped launch the initiative in November 2014. Ford Foundation and Open Society Foundations made an early commitment to provide funding for digital literacy training and program evaluation through the University of Texas Moody College of Communication. Since then, a number of community partners including Freescale, IBM, the KDK Harman Foundation, Rackspace and Microsoft have committed to supporting the program in ways that meet the diverse needs of our public housing residents.

The digital divide is very real for public housing residents — the cost of Internet access is often prohibitive, families have to make the choice between a shared smart phone and a home computer, and lack of relevant computer skills keeps families from realizing the benefits of the Internet. Equitable access to technology directly enables workforce development, education, social inclusion and health and civic engagement opportunities.

We aim to improve the quality of life for low-income public housing residents by building self-sufficiency that supports economic independence, with technology as the lever. To increase digital inclusion for HACA residents, we will:

  • Provide free basic Internet access to 1,838 residential public housing units through our partnership with Google Fiber.
  • Design and deliver linguistically, culturally and age-appropriate digital literacy services to a continuum of our population.
  • Enable every HACA household to earn a refurbished computer device through our partnership with Austin Community College.
  • Evaluate project progress and overall impact through our work with the University of Texas.

Unlocking the Connection will be rolled out geographically over the next three years; Phase I began in summer 2014, at six public housing properties that house 1,423 individuals ages 0-90 years. In July 2015, HACA was named a mentor city by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in its ConnectHome initiative.

Collaboration is key to realizing the overall vision of Unlocking the Connection. With generous funding from our sponsors, we offer focused digital literacy services to residents from early childhood, to K-12 STEM programming, workforce development and senior services. These service providers include: United Way, Skillpoint Alliance, Latinitas, Goodwill of Central Texas, Boys and Girls Club and Austin Free-Net. Other key partners include: American YouthWorks, Any Baby Can, Communities in Schools and Family Eldercare.