May 08, 2018
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HUD May Soon Evict Residents in Two Public Housing Complexes in Southern Illinois

The failures of the complexes — and HUD’s role — is being investigated by The Southern Illinoisan and ProPublica.

by Molly Parker, The Southern Illinoisan

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Thursday that about 40 families remaining in two dilapidated public housing complexes in southern Illinois have until June 30 to move — or they may face eviction proceedings.

HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said that housing officials will work with families facing “extenuating circumstances,” such as difficulties securing another apartment. But otherwise, eviction proceedings will begin July 2, according to a flier that HUD provided to affected residents Thursday evening at a meeting in Cairo, the most southern city in Illinois.

“Please note an eviction on your rental record could affect your ability to rent other housing in the future,” the flier stated.

“Landlords typically use rental and eviction history to select who they will rent to.”

The Southern Illinoisan and ProPublica are working together this year to explore HUD’s oversight of public housing in small and medium-sized cities. Earlier this month, we profiled six residents and described how HUD’s actions in Cairo and the nearby village of Thebes have upended their lives.

HUD took over the Alexander County Housing Authority in early 2016, citing allegations of mismanagement, misspending of federal funds and unsafe building conditions. Both Cairo and Thebes are located in the county.

Brown said that in addition to the health and safety risks to tenants who remain in the complexes, the housing authority cannot afford to continue paying utility costs past the summer.

Last spring, HUD announced it would shutter the two World War II-era family housing complexes in Cairo and help residents move out. Then, this February, HUD officials delivered similar news to residents of two more public housing complexes in Thebes.

All told, nearly 500 people, half of them children, are being forced to find new homes. Residents are eligible to relocate to another public housing complex or receive a voucher that subsidizes rent in the private market. HUD is also paying moving expenses.

The flier distributed Thursday to residents in Cairo states that officials “wanted to allow time for families with children to complete the school year,” and “have time to secure new housing and enroll their children in school prior to the start of the school year in July.” (The school year generally begins in mid-August across southern Illinois.)

Most families have had to move to other communities because Cairo does not have many private homes for rent that could qualify for HUD rental vouchers. Many have landed in cities — Carbondale, Illinois, and Cape Girardeau, Missouri — that are about an hour away.

Steven Tarver, who still lives in one of the Cairo complexes, said that many of the tenants want to continue living in the city. They are holding out hope that a new apartment complex will be built with units that can accommodate larger families.

“The people who are still here don’t want to go nowhere,” Tarver said. “We don’t want to leave Cairo.”

HUD’s Brown has said that the agency was unsuccessful in its attempts to find a private developer willing to partner with HUD to build in the economically challenged city.

Once the complexes are completely vacated, Brown said the agency’s goal is to “seal off the area.” No date has been given for demolition of the complexes.

HUD is giving residents in Thebes more time to move because the agency only announced the closure of the two buildings there in February. No deadline has been set for the Thebes residents to vacate their public housing units.

Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats, issued a statement calling the June 30 deadline “completely unacceptable” given the lack of housing options for people who want to remain in Cairo.

Last week, Sen. Duckworth placed a hold on all nominees to senior leadership positions at HUD that are awaiting Senate confirmation because she said the agency “failed to respond” to a request she and Durbin sent for information regarding its decision to close the Thebes complexes.

“It is unacceptable for HUD to make yet another rash decision that uproots dozens of families from their homes without providing a detailed explanation, especially after Donald Trump promised throughout his campaign to help communities exactly like Cairo and Thebes,” Duckworth said in a press release.

During a recent Senate hearing on his agency’s budget, HUD Secretary Ben Carson called on the Senate to approve the nominees, who had been held up for months prior to Duckworth’s action. HUD also responded to the senators’ request for additional information, but Duckworth’s office said the response was insufficient.

This article was produced in partnership with The Southern Illinoisan, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

Image: William Widmer, special to ProPublica

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