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Online at home – Web-based services

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By Todd Cohen

Harnessing Great Society goals to digital tools, high-tech entrepreneurs are backing a charitable effort to plug residents of government-supported housing into the New Economy.

Former top officials of a philanthropy created by developer Jim Rouse have formed a nonprofit to help wire affordable housing units and connect their residents to Web-based financial services and educational and job-training tools.

One Economy, based in Washington, D.C., is the brainchild of Rey Remsey and Ben Hecht, two former top executives at The Enterprise Foundation in Columbia, Md.

Created by Rouse in 1982, the foundation helps nonprofit and commercial developers trade tax credits to build affordable housing.

The pair concluded that affordable housing alone was not enough to help low-income people tap into the jobs and wealth being created by the digital economy.

“We have found that the home is the place of culture and learning where families are strengthened,” says Hecht, One Economy’s president and chief operating officer, “and we wanted to give them the tools to make that job easier.”

One Economy has negotiated a deal with AOL Time Warner and is in talks with other Internet-access and hardware firms to give U.S. discounted access to computers and the Web.

The group also is working with neighborhood-based nonprofits in Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore. — and plans to expand to other cities — to help residents of affordable housing use technology to build personal wealth.

One Economy also is building The Beehive, a Web site that will give affordable-housing residents access to financial services, and feature online learning and job-training tools, plus information on health care and home ownership.

“For someone to be able to truly benefit from access to services that might be online, they need to be able to get them at home,” says Cathy Clark, president of the Flatiron Foundation.

Launched in 2000 by Flatiron Partners, a venture-capital firm in New York that focuses on early-stage tech initiatives, the foundation has given One Economy $100,000.

Other funders include the Ford Foundation; the family foundation of high-tech investor Avram Miller, a former Intel senior executive; and Wired magazine co-founder Jane Metcalfe.

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