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Westmoreland County Housing Authority gets funds to boost residents' internet access

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

The Westmoreland County Housing Authority was one of 30 public agencies named Monday to participate in a federal program to assist low-income residents to acquire computer skills and internet services.

Authority Executive Director Michael Washowich said the ConnectHome Nation program will enable the county's public housing residents to receive computer training and access to affordable internet services in their homes.

“We will work to expose the program to our residents, but it will be up to them to participate,” Washowich said.

The program is affiliated with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and is funded through a public-private partnership. No local money will be used, Washowich said.

Westmoreland's housing agency, the Pittsburgh Housing Authority and the Allegheny County authority were among the 30 communities selected through an open application process and reviewed by EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit that creates social and economic opportunity by connecting the public to the internet.

Since 2012, EveryoneOn has connected more than 500,000 people in the United States, with the goal of connecting 1 million by 2020.

“ConnectHome and now ConnectHome Nation is the first of its kind, public-private partnership that is committed to ending the digital divide in public housing across the United States,” said Chike Aguh, chief executive officer of EveryoneOn. “We are so excited to welcome this new cohort of communities who are committed to changing the life trajectory of some of the most in need in our country.

“These communities' commitment to ConnectHome Nation shows that when you collaborate across public and private sectors, you can solve any problem,” he said.

The national effort will continue the pilot program that started in 2015 in 28 public housing communities.

Details of how it will be implemented locally still must be finalized, Washowich said.

Westmoreland's housing authority operates computer centers in some of its communities. It has about 4,500 public housing units in the local system.

Officials don't have an estimate of how many public housing residents own computers or have internet service in their homes.

“I'm sure it's on the low side. Why wouldn't we want to expand it?” Washowich said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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