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Morino Institute From Access to Outcomes: Digital Divide Report and Dialogue

    Premise Four
Report Supplement
Using the Report

Premise Four:
Support Efforts by Communities to Strengthen Their Capacity

Some low-income communities are not ready to take advantage of new technologies. In those communities, the social fabric is threadbare and people can focus on little beyond the most basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter. In such settings, the wisest investments are those that build the community’s "capacity"— that is, its basic assets, such as affordable housing, health clinics, community organizations, public transportation, banking services, retail stores, roads, and sewage systems.

The hard truth is that until at least a basic level of community capacity is in place, large-scale technology initiatives have little hope of success. The only proven application of technology when community capacity is very low is to arm local activists and other "change agents" with communication tools such as email lists, which can connect them to like-minded members of other communities that have faced similar challenges.

Case in Point: Building a Community Block by Block in New York City

No factor is more crucial to a community’s strength than the condition of its housing, and no city exemplifies this dynamic more clearly than New York.

In the early 1990s, after three decades of widespread real estate divestment and abandonment, the city owned the title to tens of thousands of dilapidated housing units in some of America’s toughest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Over the past seven years, the Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Program (NEP), a public-private venture of the New York City Partnership, has achieved remarkable success in building community capacity by rehabilitating more than 3,500 dilapidated homes in neighborhoods once given up for dead, including Harlem’s 140th Street, Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, and the Bronx’s Hunts Point.

To bring about profound, neighborhood-wide change, NEP targets clusters of city-owned buildings and then offers market incentives to help small, local entrepreneurs acquire, refurbish, and manage them. By providing affordable housing and entrepreneurship opportunities, the program has enhanced community capacity in direct ways. It has also done so indirectly, by catalyzing retail development, job creation, capital formation, and community organizing.

Helping to meet the fundamental need for safe, affordable housing has provided the foundation upon which more ambitious efforts, including those that involve clever applications of technology, can be built.

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