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CMHA and Cincinnati Bell to offer free high-speed internet access in six public housing communities

'It's going to make a world of difference'
This photo shows white, wireless modems already installed on the side of buildings at Marianna Terrace in Lincoln Heights.
Posted at 4:55 PM, Aug 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-30 20:47:20-04

LINCOLN HEIGHTS, Ohio — Hundreds of residents at three Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority properties can enjoy free high-speed internet access thanks to a new partnership between the housing authority and Cincinnati Bell.

CMHA contracted with Cincinnati Bell’s UniCity Smart City division to provide free internet connectivity at its Marianna Terrace, Ralph Street and Setty Kuhn communities. By the end of 2021, the communities of Beacon Glen, Horizon Hills and Millvale also will have free high-speed internet access under the terms of the agreement.

More than 1,200 residents in those six locations will benefit.

“I think it’s going to make a world of difference,” said LaVerne Mitchell, the vice chair of CMHA’s board of commissioners. “I think some of the residents don’t even realize what a great difference this is gonna make.”

Mitchell and other community and business leaders gathered Monday for a ribbon-cutting at Marianna Terrace in Lincoln Heights to celebrate the new partnership.

LaVerne Mitchell is smiling in this photo. She has short white and grey hair and is wearing a black dress with white stripes.
LaVerne Mitchell

CMHA CEO Gregory Johnson said the housing authority used about $2.5 million in federal CARES Act funding to pay for the necessary equipment and pre-pay three years of free connectivity for the six public housing communities.

The housing authority identified which communities would get the free internet connectivity based on how much funding it had for the effort, he said, and how many locations that money could reach.

Cincinnati Bell’s UniCity division works specifically with local governments and government entities to provide high-speed internet access to communities. It has formed similar partnerships over the past year with the Dayton (Kentucky) Housing Authority, Housing Authority of Covington and Greater Dayton Premier Management, according to a CMHA news release.

“Knowledge is power, and access to knowledge and education are the things that always change your trajectory in your life,” said Tom Simpson, Cincinnati Bell’s chief operating officer. “And broadband like this, the things that we do as a small-partnered community, are the things that I hope embolden everybody in this community to change the trajectory in their life.”

CMHA and Cincinnati Bell are working to identify funding to expand the benefit to more public housing communities in Hamilton County, Johnson said, and to keep it going beyond three years.

Gregory Johnson speaking at a ribbon-cutting at Marianna Terrace on Aug. 30, 2021. He is holding a microphone and wearing a white dress shirt, glasses and a mask over his nose and mouth.
Gregory Johnson speaking at a ribbon-cutting at Marianna Terrace on Aug. 30, 2021.

“It comes down to the dollar and cents,” he said. “So if we’re talking about affordable housing, affordable assets and this infrastructure that’s needed for all of our families and individuals, how do we build something locally, nationally, to help make sure that this doesn’t stop and it can get expanded.”

Johnson said his agency has been working for years to provide free internet connectivity to CMHA residents but struggled to identify funding for the idea until the CARES Act money came along.

The new benefit will help CMHA residents of all ages, Mitchell said, whether they are school children, adults seeking employment or residents of any age trying to access benefits, connect with family or attend church services from home.

“This is one of the best aspects of CMHA is when you say, hey, we got you the housing. Now we have to keep you in that housing and keep you healthy, keep you well, and keep your life being productive,” she said. “And that’s what this bold transformation is all about.”

Johnson said as exciting as Monday’s ribbon-cutting was, he can’t help but worry about how CMHA will continue to pay for the free internet connectivity three years from now.

But Mitchell said she’s confident that the agency – and the community – will find a way.

More information about Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority is available online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on problems we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for Lucy and for WCPO 9. To reach Lucy, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.