CAIRO, IL – A call to help a local community comes from Illinois Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin. The pair sent a letter to President Donald Trump over the housing and economic crisis in Cairo, Illinois.
In April, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would tear down the Elmwood and McBride housing complexes and with them, the homes of roughly 200 families. Some residents worry the senators’ call to action may be too late.
It’s quiet these days outside Elmwood and McBride in Cairo. Since HUD’s announcement in April, there are fewer people around.
Cooking up burgers and fries from his kitchen, Timothy Brown Jr. said it’s still a shock that his home here will be demolished.
“Kind of makes you feel kind of disturbed, but it’s like you’re helpless. Nothing else you can do, what can you do except try to move on, try to hustle before they break it down?” he said. Brown said maintenance at the complexes has gone from bad to worse since the HUD announcement was made.
“It’s like these apartments haven’t been fixed in I don’t know how long. Yeah, they just paint over the holes, keep it going,” he said.
When Elmwood and McBride are torn down, there will be little to no public housing in town for residents displaced by the demolition. Many will move out of the area, even out of state, to find new places to live. HUD has said it will provide vouchers and moving assistance to help them, but the process has been slow. Many said they don’t want to leave the community at all.
In response to the housing crisis, both Illinois senators are calling on Trump to create a cabinet-level task force, saying in their letter that, because the federal government helped create the economic issues in Cairo, the federal government should help rebuild the community.
With 38 families already gone and more set to leave with HUD vouchers, Brown said it’s a little late now. They should have been there sooner.
“I feel like the federal government should have been helping people out here. I feel like everywhere else gets help. Why is Cairo missing?” he said. With public housing in decent shape up the road in Tamms, Illinois, and down in Wickliffe, Kentucky, Brown questions why Cairo housing fell into rough shape and why no one has been willing to improve it.
While many of his neighbors want to stay in Cairo, Brown said he and his family will move to Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
“Yeah, we planning on getting up out of here. If people are staying, they’re moving to houses around here. But you ain’t going to be out here. Where you gonna’ stay? You know, when they knock the buildings down, where you going to live?” he said.
With the town’s housing and future uncertain, he said there’s one thing he’s sure of: It can’t get any worse.
HUD spokesperson Jereon Brown said the department took over for the Alexander County Housing Authority after years of mismanagement and a lack of maintenance. He said they should have taken over sooner, but added that housing alone will not change the economic environment in Cairo. He said development typically comes from the state or the community.