A County of Wellington social services staff recommendation for bringing WiFi access points to common areas of all county owned social housing buildings has committee approval.
The social services committee was told at a Wednesday meeting that staff are proposing an investment of 32 WiFi access points to 26 social housing buildings.
“The pandemic pushed most forms of communication and many of our community services into online platforms and with that shift, internet access equity is becoming more of an issue for our tenants,” said Mark Poste, director of housing.
“There are more potential barriers to reliable internet access in our community for sure but for the tenants in our social and affordable housing buildings, affordability can be the biggest barrier.”
Poste said the upfront cost is around $93,000 before taxes which would be covered using existing COVID-relief funding.
The annual operating costs would be around $28,000 added to the 2022 budget process.
Poste’s report states these access points would mainly be in buildings’ common rooms which would create a place for tenants to return emails, apply for services and support, download files, forms and videos and connect with family and friends.
Most of the included buildings are in Wellington County in Palmerston, Harriston, Mount Forest, Arthur, Fergus, Erin and Elora although nine Guelph buildings are listed. In total, Poste said it would serve 1,009 units.
Coun. Campbell Cork was in big support of this, calling internet access “like water and air.”
However, he asked Poste if he was aware how many social housing clients did not have internet access.
Poste said he did not have this information but stressed the importance of creating equitable internet access in social housing.
“We do know a number of clients are anecdotally going through buildings, trying to access WiFi that other people may be fortunate enough to be able to afford in the buildings,” Poste said.
“We know that a number of people struggle...it’s giving the access so people don’t have to move too far out of their comfort zone in order to get that full access.”
Coun. Steve O’Neill asked if it is feasible, because it is being funded through COVID-relief, to put more hubs throughout the buildings to avoid crowded common areas.
Poste replied this was the initial scope of the project but it is being set-up in a way that would potentially make it expandable.
The committee approved this to go forward to June’s county council meeting.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com