HUD Secretary Ben Carson Visits Cairo

Aug 8, 2017

Almost four months after Housing and Urban Development announced it was closing two public housing complexes in Cairo, the head of the federal agency visited the town.

Ben Carson toured the McBride and Elmwood developments Tuesday and then answered questions from some residents at Cairo High School.

Carson says he didn't come to hand out money. He says HUD wants to form partnerships at the local and state levels.

"There is a big problem here. We have to be honest enough to admit there is a problem and that we have to do everything that we have the ability to do to fix it."

Paul Lambert has lived in public housing for 39 years. He says he has faith things will get better.

"I thank Ben Carson for being here. At least he did make a step to be here. But, my thought (is), he should've been here a long time ago. But, it's never too late."

Another resident, Steven Tarver, is pessimistic about Carson's visit, saying it won't make a difference.

"He didn't give us any plans. He didn't bring a check. He didn't leave us with any hope or any faith on what's the next move. So, it was a waste of time basically."

Tarver says he's trying to improve Cairo's housing crisis by working with investors from Chicago to purchase ten properties in Alexander County to create affordable housing, including 40 to 50 duplexes that he hopes can be available within six months.

Local, state and federal officials joined Carson in Cairo.

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth met with Cairo resident recently and then she talked with Carson. She says part of the secretary's decision to close the complexes may have been the result of misinformation.

"One of the things he said was -- and there were HUD officials there who said the same thing -- that people did not want to stay. I said 'wait a minute, I just got through talking to people who said they DO want to stay.' They want options to stay and they want to find options to stay."

State Senator Dale Fowler says Secretary Carson wants to exhaust all options to find housing for those residents who want to remain in Cairo.

"Since becoming a member of the General Assembly in January, I've spent many days here, I've had the opportunity to get to know the residents, the leadership. I've got to admit I've fallen in love with this city. I've fallen in love with the potential. That's what we have to capitalize on. It's going to be a long term investment."

Cairo City Council member Constance Williams says she wants Dr. Carson and others to realize her town is not dying.

"We've had problems. We're having problems. We're going to continue to have problems. But, there are people who are thriving and want to reinvent this community.  That's what we hope he could see and maybe have some influence."

Williams says city leaders asked Carson for more time to find solutions to the housing crisis before there are more evacuations. But, she says the secretary made no commitment to do that.

HUD's Towanda Macon is in charge of the Alexander County Housing Authority. She says four months since the decision to close the developments most people remain.

"We're going through the process. We have tenant protection vouchers and we're hoping to work with residents to obtain those vouchers."

Southern Illinois Congressman Mike Bost introduced a bill recently to prosecute those accused of corruption with the Alexander County Housing Authority and others like it across the country.

"When something like this occurs and you look at the conditions that they put them in, and just by sheer abuse of their power, and sheer abuse of how they used their power to put themselves into position, we've got to send a clear message, nationwide, this doesn't happen."