Internet connectivity is a service that most people take for granted. Jeffery K. Patterson is striving to make it just as available for the low-income residents he serves at Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority.
“In order to achieve self-sufficiency and do a lot of the things you need to do to be successful, you need to be able to understand, navigate and fully utilize the internet,” says Patterson, CMHA’s CEO and safety director. “Being able to do that at your home allows you a great deal of flexibility rather than being restricted to using it only in certain public places during certain hours.”
CMHA has received support from multiple sources — including the federal ConnectHome initiative that began under President Barack Obama — to provide free broadband service.
“The digital divide is something where if you don’t invest in trying to close it, it’s only going to get worse, which means the problem I’m trying to solve compounds and gets worse,” he says.
Within the low-income demographic that CMHA serves are children, senior citizens and other groups with unique needs.
“If you look at the folks we serve, people will say, ‘OK, they’re just serving one bucket of people,’” Patterson says. “But within that bucket, there are different categories, distinctions and reasons why people are facing some of the challenges they are. You have to have different approaches and understand there are different levels of what would be success in each of those approaches.”
CMHA is one of the 10 largest housing authorities in the country, providing safe and affordable housing for nearly 55,000 low-income residents of Cuyahoga County. Patterson arrived at the agency in 2002, serving in a number of positions before being named CEO in 2012.
“What you want to do is have a situation where people are willing to put their cards on the table with the feeling of, ‘If I do this and I’m upfront, these individuals are going to work with me to help make my situation better,’” he says.
Building new bridges in the community with other leaders and civic organizations will continue to be an important part of Patterson’s work.
“It feels good to know that although there are so many more mountains to climb, we’re still in a position to be able to climb,” he says. “Each time, we move up, and we’re able to help someone get in a better situation.”
CMHA also serves a significant number of senior citizens who are prepared to build roots in their homes.
“Success for a senior may be to be in an environment where they are comfortable, they can financially afford it and they can be surrounded by resources and people that can help them continue to be OK in their later years,” Patterson says.