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HUD agrees to reduce rent charges for Thebes public housing tenants facing forced relocation

THEBES — Housing and Urban Development has agreed to reduce monthly rent beginning in June for many of the roughly 30 families who have been told they must move from two public housing complexes in Thebes that have fallen into disrepair.

In a return letter to Sen. Tammy Duckworth last week, HUD agreed to cut rent charges in half, with the caveat that all tenants must pay at least $50, and none will pay more than $300. HUD, which is managing the housing authority in receivership, says the Alexander County Housing Authority cannot afford to bring them up to health and safety standards and keep them open.

Duckworth had asked HUD to confirm whether the agency planned to abate rent for Thebes residents “who are living in conditions that HUD has deemed as unsafe.” In an October 2016 HUD inspection of Mary Alice Meadows and Sunset Terrace in Thebes and a handful of scattered sites in Cairo, the facilities were given a collective score of 28 out of 100 (60 is considered passing).

Cited deficiencies included infestation, peeling paint, holes in walls, mold, and doors and windows that did not properly secure. The inspection, which looked at a sampling of units and is the latest available to The Southern, estimated that a total of 236 health and safety deficiencies would apply to the properties if all buildings and units were assessed.

“If HUD will not abate rent, please provide a justification of why Thebes residents should be forced to pay a single penny in rent for housing that places their lives or safety at risk,” Duckworth wrote to HUD.

Monthly rent charges for residents of HUD-subsidized housing are established by a formula that takes into consideration their income and other factors. In HUD’s response, Len Wolfson, assistant secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations, wrote that HUD regulations allow for rent adjustments in certain circumstances when “repairs cannot be made within a reasonable period of time.”

“The adjustments take into account that, based on prior precedent, HUD has always continued to charge rent because there is value for shelter and utilities,” Wolfson wrote.

According to a HUD official, about a dozen residents are already paying the minimum $50 and, therefore, will not see a reduction. About another 15 residents were paying monthly rent ranging from $51 to less than $700, and will see their rents reduced by up to 50 percent, according to a HUD official.

Further, HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said previously that housing officials are working with tenants who are in arrears to the Alexander County Housing Authority to ensure that their debts are cleared before they move so that they can utilize their housing choice voucher to rent in the private market, or transfer to another public housing authority.

With HUD’s detailed response last week to the questions she previously posed in a co-authored letter with Sen. Dick Durbin, an aide to Duckworth said she is lifting the “blanket hold” she placed on HUD nominees pending U.S. Senate confirmation.

Earlier this week, Duckworth told HUD Secretary Ben Carson in a letter that her decision last month to oppose unanimous consent of nominees was “not taken lightly” and was based on what she believed were “inadequate and incomplete” explanations about his agency’s actions in Alexander County compared to the “stress, uncertainty and hardship” experienced by public housing tenants facing forced relocation.

President Donald Trump’s senior-level nominations to lead two key HUD offices — Public and Indian Housing and the Federal Housing Administration — have been stalled for months in the Senate. Therefore, Duckworth’s hold amounted to a largely symbolic doubling down on the delays, and the reversal does not mean the confirmation process will move forward.  

Among their questions, Illinois’ senators asked HUD to explain, in detail, how the agency reached its decision to shutter two complexes in Thebes, and why tenants of Mary Alice Meadows and Sunset Terrace had to continue paying rent following the February closure announcement there.

In interviews with The Southern Illinoisan, numerous Thebes residents said it seemed unfair that they were asked to continue paying rent given that tenants of Elmwood and McBride in Cairo were told they did not have to following HUD’s April 2017 closure announcement.

The rent abatement for affected Cairo public housing residents was included in the terms of a settlement agreement stemming from a lawsuit that some tenants brought against the Alexander County Housing Authority in the spring of 2016.


Salukimania
top story
SIU women’s soccer
Evansville assistant coach Grant Williams chosen to lead SIU's first women's soccer team

CARBONDALE — Grant Williams knew exactly what the first SIU Carbondale women's soccer players in history should look like, and will now get a chance to pick them.

Williams, an assistant coach at the University of Evansville the last six years, was introduced as the Salukis' first women's soccer coach at an afternoon press conference Monday. The Salukis are scheduled to compete in 2019 as an independent and play in the Missouri Valley Conference beginning in 2020. Williams hopes to sign between 12 to 15 women next February that will believe in SIU as much as themselves.

"There will be good enough soccer players and good enough athletes," Williams said. "The things that you ask of a student-athlete, the demands on their time, effort, energy, blood, sweat and tears, you've got to find the kid who really identifies with your school and takes pride in the color they wear, and the name that's on the front of their shirt and not necessarily what's on the back. That's what's going to make a difference for us here."

Williams has coached 47 all-conference players throughout his career, as well as four CoSIDA academic All-Americans, spanning rec leagues to high schools to the last 13 years as a Division I assistant coach. While at Evansville, the Purple Aces won two league championships and advanced to the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Williams oversaw recruiting, scouting reports, travel, fitness testing and team building. He also shared responsibilities with practice, game-planning, scheduling and summer camps.

Evansville went 6-11-0 overall and 2-5-0 in the Valley in 2017, finishing seventh, but was first or second in the MVC in four of the last six years. That sustained success, the ability to help lead a team to the NCAA Tournament, and his background set him apart from the finalists, acting director of athletics Jerry Kill said.

"Everywhere he's coached, he has been a part of successful programs, and I think we know about Evansville soccer," Kill said. "He's well-known throughout the Midwest as a great recruiter, and I always say, you're only as good as your players, and he's certainly known for that."

Williams was a backer at Division III Concordia Lutheran in Austin, Texas, before starting his coaching career with the varsity and junior varsity boys teams at Bowling Green (Kentucky) High School while attending Western Kentucky University. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in exercise science in 2004 and got his first Division I job with his alma mater in 2006. The Hilltoppers went 40-13-7 during his four years there, winning the Sun Belt Conference title in 2007. He coached 13 all-conference players, one player of the year and one academic All-American.

Williams also coached at Eastern Illinois from 2009-12, and was the assistant director of Southern Kentucky Soccer from 2004-07. He served as a staff coach in the Kentucky ODP program (2003-04, 2007), and as a head coach in the SKY soccer club (2002-07).

Evansville coach Krista McKendree said she was thrilled for Williams' new opportunity, even though she will now have to recruit against him.

"I couldn't be happier for Grant, he is of the highest caliber character you will find in college athletics," she said in a statement. "SIU could not have found someone who wants this job more, and Grant and his wife, Elaine, will be excellent stewards of the entire athletics department. I am very thankful for the six years he dedicated to the Aces and am thrilled he has the opportunity to be a head coach."

SIU announced it was adding women's soccer in January after a Title IX complaint filed by former women's tennis coach Judy Auld and a former player in 2017. The Salukis dropped their men's and women's tennis programs in January 2017 for financial reasons, but were found to be in violation of the federal law that guarantees schools receiving public funds to offer the same athletic opportunities for male and female students. 


Duquoin
Du Quoin State Fair
Southern rock band Blackberry Smoke added to Du Quoin State Fair entertainment roster

Du Quoin State Fair officials add to their lineup of entertainment by announcing Blackberry Smoke will play the grandstand on Saturday, Aug. 25.

In a release from the Fair’s main office, the band is described as “a blend of classic rock, blues, country, and folk” — the release said their albums are “full of variety” and should offer something to everyone who attends the show.

The release quotes an interview guitarist/vocalist Charlie Starr did with GRAMMY.com. "It's so good it just can't get old," Starr said. "[Southern rock is] always a welcome sound to people's ears."

Blackberry Smoke has played with the likes of ZZ Top, George Jones, Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Tickets for all announced grandstand entertainment go on sale on ticketmaster.com at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 19. They will be for sale at the Grandstand box office starting at 9 a.m. Monday, May 21.

Blackberry Smoke tickets will range from $17 to $23.

Blackberry Smoke will round out a lineup featuring classic rock staples Cheap Trick, as well as country act Brothers Osborne.

Having Rockford-native Cheap Trick is a nod to celebrating the state’s history.

“Southern Illinois will be a key player in the state’s Bicentennial celebration,” State Fair Manager Luke Sailer said in a news release. “It seems only fitting to welcome this highly successful Illinois band to help our state mark such a historic occasion.”

Fans of early-aughts alt-rock will be drawn to the Gen-X Tour featuring Buckcherry, P.O.D., Lit and Alien Ant Farm Aug. 31.

Buckcherry has been performing for nearly a decade, the release announcing the show states. Buckcherry is a Grammy-nominated band and has collaborated with AC/DC, Rob Zombie, Bon Jovi, and Gretchen Wilson. The band is best known for hits such as “Sorry”, “Bring It on Back,” “Tight Pants,” and “Lit Up.”

Not to leave out the softer side, The Du Quoin State Fair will also host the POP2K Tour featuring O-Town, Aaron Carter, Ryan Cabrera and Tyler Hilton Aug. 23.

O-Town rose to fame in 1999 on the reality TV show "Making the Band," and had hits including "All or Nothing" and "Liquid Dreams" during the three seasons they were on the show. The band reunited in 2014 and members are working on their fourth album.

The theme for this year’s fair, which will run from Aug. 24 to Sept. 3, was announced earlier this month. “Celebrate Illinois: 200 Years of Amazing!” was selected to honor the state’s bicentennial.

For more information on the Du Quoin State Fair, visit duquoinstatefair.net, facebook.com/duquoinstatefair, or twitter.com/DQStateFair.

This article has been updated with more information about ticket sales.


Molly Parker, The Southern 

A child runs home after getting off the school bus in August at a public housing complex in Thebes. 


Westfrankfort
Morthland College Foundation
West Frankfort City Council is expected to rescind its land donation to Morthland College Foundation

WEST FRANKFORT — On hold for more than a year, the West Frankfort City Council is likely to decide Tuesday to not deed over four parcels of land to the Morthland College Foundation.

The City Council originally voted to donate the land last year.

West Frankfort Mayor Tom Jordan said it is his recommendation that the city maintain ownership of the properties, and that he anticipates the council to vote in favor of his recommendation.

Jordan said representatives from Morthland College, the private Christian college that in recent months has become the center of multiple lawsuits and an investigation by the Illinois Board of Higher Education for its handling of Title IV student aid dollars, came to the council asking to use land for community building projects such as gardens and green space.

However, Jordan said that about the time the council voted to donate the land is when the college and it’s network of “guilds,” or associated business ventures all spearheaded by local physician Tim Morthland, began to unravel.

“As things progressed, it just seemed more and more a good decision to give them access to them (but not give the lots to them),” Jordan said Monday.

He cited specifically news that the school and its associated business were served with hefty liens by the IRS for back taxes totaling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since this news broke last year, several properties have been sold by the county at a tax sale, including the donated Coleman Rhodes building that at one time housed the college’s library. The sale also included the school’s primary office building on Oak Street. As of press time, none of these tax sales had been redeemed with the County Clerk’s office.

Jordan said the council’s likely decision to not deed over the properties to the foundation does not mean that the Morthland family of businesses could not use the properties — it means they would not own them outright. He said, to date, the school has used only one of the four lots open to it.

Jordan said his decision to make the recommendation and the Council’s choice to put it on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting came after it was noticed the college was not maintaining the parcels.

“We are starting mow grass and they weren’t taking care of the lots,” he said.

The four lots of land are not the only way the city has been tethered to the school. In 2013, the city voted to assist the college through TIF dollars with payments on it’s Oak Street building should it ever need help paying the mortgage.

“In order to help them survive back when they first started, we agreed if they needed help, we would help them because they would be such an economic engine,” Jordan said in an article published in October in The Southern.

At that point, he said the city had paid in March, May, June and August, with each check being for $4,745.46. The city paid $18,981.84 that year. Jordan said the city has also made payments in January and February of this year. He said in order to receive help, the college had to petition the city formally for aid.

He said, like with the donated lots of property, the city is currently in a holding pattern with this assistance.

“Our affiliation with that payment is with that college and we are trying to determine if there is a college,” Jordan said. “Is there a college in June? Is there a College in July?”

The city is waiting to find out.

Representatives from Morthland College declined comment.


 

Jordan