CAIRO — The boards on the windows of the "Ralph T. Stenger" building have come down — letting a little light shine into a shuttered apartment complex that’s getting a second chance, in a town in need of the same.
On Tuesday afternoon, Jim Covey and a small crew of helpers, including his mother, worked to reopen the 10-unit complex that closed in August 2015 when the Delta Center folded. Covey is the owner of Marion-based Shawnee Enterprises, which recently purchased the complex at auction from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which had foreclosed upon the building.
The building has been sitting vacant since. Covey said the apartments — eight one-bedroom, and two two-bedroom apartments — will be made available to families being relocated from Cairo’s Elmwood and McBride complexes as HUD prepares to tear them down because they are unsafe.
It doesn’t solve the major dilemma facing HUD as federal housing officials continue the process of relocating a remaining 154 families who are still living at Elmwood and McBride, many of whom want to stay in Cairo. But it’s a positive development in a town that hasn’t seen many wins lately.
HUD Region V Deputy Regional Administrator James Cunningham announced that HUD had sold the building to Shawnee Enterprises at the Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Alexander County Board. Cunningham said the apartment complex should be open by October.
“We’re thrilled,” said Covey, originally of Simpson, and now of Marion. “It’s a step forward in a town that’s seen a lot of step backwards. So we’re excited about that.” Cunningham said HUD also is pleased with the deal.
Covey said that up to two people can live in the one-bedroom apartments, and up to four people in the two-bedroom apartments. Covey said he’s working as quickly as possible to have them move-in ready. The tenants moving into the building will be able to use the Tenant Protection Vouchers that HUD is providing all Elmwood and McBride families to subsidize rent at the complex known as the Stenger building. The complex is made of brick, appears to have been kept in good condition and is open and inviting inside.
The company has a long history in Cairo. Shawnee Enterprises’ nonprofit arm manages Little Egypt Village, a 17-unit, U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development-financed complex constructed in 1995. But the company’s history goes back further than that.
Covey said his uncle, William Covey, and his uncle’s business partner, Tom Logan, founded Shawnee Enterprises in 1972. During the early to mid-1970s, they built about 150 homes in Cairo at the time in a partnership with the federal agency then known as Farmers Home Administration, which later morphed into the USDA Office of Rural Development.
“It even made the front pages of the Wall Street Journal. It was quite a story at the time,” he said. “There were a lot of local folks who worked on building the homes.”
In 2005, Jim Covey and Tom Logan’s son, Martin Logan, joined together as business partners and carried on the tradition their elders began, Jim Covey said.
“This was just a perfect fit,” he said Tuesday, taking a brief break from his renovation work to speak with the newspaper. “It is in our area. It fits our focus and our mission to help the folks out.
“So we were just excited when it worked out in our favor.”