2021 TAG Summit: How the Atlanta Housing Authority is Leveraging Connectivity to Engage the Community

Recently, the ASBN team was on-location at the 2021 Georgia Technology Summit where anchor Jim Fitzpatrick spoke with Brian Benn, Chief Information Officer of the Atlanta Housing Authority, the largest housing authority in Georgia and one of the largest in the nation. The AHA provides and facilitates affordable housing resources for nearly 22,000 low-income households comprised of approximately 50,000 people.

Stay tuned for more coverage from the 2021 Georgia Technology Summit.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Here we are with Brian Benn, who is the CIO of the Atlanta Housing Authority. Welcome back to ASBN.

Brian Benn:
Thank you. Thank you so much.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. Talk to me a little bit about what your talk was today for those people that weren’t able to click on and visit Summit.

Brian Benn:
Okay. So we talked about our societies. We were really focusing on our societies, the engagement, getting them engaged. And we’re just excited that even in this virtual paradigm, which we’re a little fatigued about, that we’re still able to provide that programming and that content that’s so necessary for our technology ecosystem here to continue to thrive.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
For sure. Do you think that over the course of the last 12 or 13 months since COVID hit us all, that these have become even that much more important to the people that have visited and been able to have that access to great content from all of the different societies?

Brian Benn:
Absolutely. I think it’s been helpful and I think it’s been necessary. And one dynamic that’s introduced that I really didn’t think about when this pandemic started, it’s given us more of a global reach.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Good point.

Brian Benn:
And so, whereas you would have people come in to attend our events in person locally, we’re now able to reach Europe and Asia and some of those places that we wouldn’t really think about before the pandemic and before the virtual dynamic.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. Yeah. And people can go back and watch the content, right?

Brian Benn:
Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Kind of like on demand, right?

Brian Benn:
Exactly. Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Because so many times you’ll leave a conference if it’s in person and go, “Oh, I wish I could have seen that one more time. Or I wish my IT guy could have seen this and what they just went over.” Now they can do that.

Brian Benn:
Yeah. You can look at it again. You can share it and you can leverage all those opportunities.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
So from your standpoint, you have that challenge of, do we go back in person or we just keep it virtual?

Brian Benn:
No, I definitely want to. I definitely want to go back in person and even an introvert and nerd like myself, I definitely miss the interaction, but I do know that things have fundamentally changed and it’s going to be a hybrid environment. I know you and I are both hoping that the pandemic’s over, but we don’t know what it’s going to do, if there’s going to be another spike. So I think we need to be prepared for a potentially hybrid environment going forward. Even companies have re-introduced this hybrid paradigm where they’re working in person, they’re working in home, and they even had some cost savings as a result of it.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. So you guys are working on some really big things at the Housing Authority and making some big waves. Tell us a little bit about one of the initiatives that you’re currently working on.

Brian Benn:
Okay. Well, first I’d like to say that we’re supporting in the city 23,000 households, which is roughly 55,000 participants or residents. And our leadership from Eugene Jones to Terry Lee, our COO, Eugene Jones, our CEO, has a heart. They both have a heart for our residents. So we’ve always wanted to make sure we provided that quality affordable housing. And we realize that technology should be a part of that.

Brian Benn:
As a result, we’ve created the Access Initiative, which stands for Achieving Connectivity to Create Equity and Self-Sufficiency. And what that basically is is a three-pronged approach to digital equity. We want to make sure we’re partnering with private or public organizations to make sure we get devices in the hands of our residents. Those devices are no good without that connectivity. We want to make sure we have that wifi. And so we see wifi access the same as we see electricity. It’s necessary.

Brian Benn:
And then we want to make sure we have, for that third prong, we have that training, whether we’re talking about the youngest of our residents that are technologically savvy anyway, or we’re talking about elderly ones that need to make sure they can have a digital health, telehealth experience if they can’t get up and go, or if they just want to play bingo or talk to their relatives on their laptops or tablets.

Brian Benn:
And so we’ve gone from that simple training to something as robust as a cohort program, but we’ve partnered with a tech bridge to introduce some of our residents into the workforce. So workforce development with those wraparound services to make sure that they’re upwardly mobile once they get into that environment.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s fantastic. And the last year has shown us that the kids that I’m sure are in all of these different housing situations really need that connectivity in order to learn.

Brian Benn:
Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, we all need it. We kind of take it for granted, but they don’t just need it, they need to make sure they have the adequate broadband and speed so they can achieve.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. How does the rest of the year look? I mean, we’ve just come off, in so many different sectors, which is interesting to me, there’s a number of different companies that are reporting huge profits in the first quarter of 2021. Is there somewhat of a celebratory, maybe too soon, but a celebratory air right now out there because of COVID coming to an end here?

Brian Benn:
I think so. I think people are just refreshed that we’re looking like we’re getting to the end of it, but again, we have to be prepared. We never know what it’s going to be or what’s coming. And honestly, it could be a pandemic or it could be something that could be a change in your leadership. It could be something that fundamentally changed the industry. We just have to be able to prepare to respond, to be prepared to respond to change. So I think this was a big one, but it really helped us get better. And I think these hybrid environments, again, expand our reach and that’s one of the good things of this pandemic.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s fantastic. Brian Benn, CIO of the Atlanta Housing Authority. I want to thank you so much for joining us on the show once again.

Brian Benn:
Thank you. It’s my pleasure.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Thanks.

Brian Benn:
All right.


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