Laptops. Once considered luxury items, the portable personal computers have become ubiquitous household staples and Montgomery County’s Housing Opportunities Commission is piloting a program to help its low-income residents acquire the devices.
Known as HOC Connects, the program will provide the residents served by the commission with access to an interest-free loan to purchase a laptop through its technology purchase program. Loans will range up to three-year, with monthly payments of about $20 to $30, said spokesman Scott Ellinwood.
Ellinwood said the commission will pilot the program at its Stewartown Homes complex in Gaithersburg this summer, with the hope of offering it countywide this year.
“If [the pilot] goes as expected, we’d like to expand it to our entire multifamily portfolio in time for holiday shopping,” he said. A similar pilot for commission employees to purchase laptops was very successful, he said.
HOC Connects will be the first of its kind in the nation to be offered by a housing authority, Ellinwood said.
For Rhonda Morrison and her 13-year-old son Hezekiah Washington, the program will fill a need.
Morrison, who lives at Stewartown Homes, said her son has been asking for a computer.
Unlike when Morrison went to school, she said, Hezekiah needs a computer and Internet access to complete his school work.
“Having a laptop in the household will definitely be a big plus for us,” she said. “It will let him be able to compete academically in classroom as well as when it comes to filling out college applications and working on high school projects and research.”
Councilwoman Nancy Navarro said the County Council has been exploring ways to expand access to technology and thinks access to computers in the home might help close the achievement gap between income and racial groups in schools.
“Many people take for granted the necessity, the need, that having a computer at home fulfills,” said Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring. “More and more it is becoming an absolute necessity have access to Internet for doing homework and research. We are equipping schools with technology but we do not always think about the families at home.”
For adults, having access to a computer at home eases tasks such as searching and applying for jobs, she said.
However, the generally high cost of laptops has kept them out of reach for many low-income families.
For Morrison, the high price tag has prevented her from buying one.
Access to a program that allows people to buy a laptop with an interest-free loan is a privilege, she said.
To accompany the laptop program, Ellinwood said the commission also wants to expand Internet service at is properties, something Navarro said the council also is looking to do across the county.
The commission is scheduled to announce the pilot of the program at a press conference today.