WASHINGTON — Four federal legislators are once again pressing Housing and Urban Development’s investigatory arm to complete its review into what went wrong at the Alexander County Housing Authority.
On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost and Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth sent a letter to Helen Albert, the acting inspector general of the Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General asking her office to swiftly complete the investigation and make the results public.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also joined with the Illinois legislators in making the request to Inspector General Albert.
In the letter, the lawmakers say it is their understanding that the HUD OIG has been investigating mismanagement at the ACHA. “In the meantime, hundreds of tenants in Cairo are being forced out of their housing units due to years of negligence and mismanagement by ACHA administrators.
“Therefore, it is vital that you complete your investigation as soon as possible and make your findings public.”
The Office of Inspector General’s role, according to HUD OIG’s website, is to promote the integrity, efficiency and effectiveness of HUD programs. The office conducts audits, evaluations, investigations and oversight efforts concerning the federal housing agency’s programs and operations.
HUD OIG reports directly to Congress. It is separate from the federal housing agency. In their letter, Bost, Durbin, Duckworth and Grassley were critical of HUD’s oversight role of the local housing authority headquartered in Cairo. As a regular course of business, HUD OIG does not confirm nor deny whether an investigation exists. The spokesperson for HUD OIG could not be reached on Friday afternoon.
“For years, HUD sent letters to ACHA raising concerns about significant administrative problems being ignored by the executives. … Yet, HUD turned a blind eye each time ACHA failed to resolve its significant problems,” the letter reads. “It was not until six months after The Southern Illinoisan newspaper brought to light the extraordinary extent of the ACHA mismanagement, beginning with the article 'Chaos in Cairo' that HUD finally stepped in and took possession of the housing authority.”
HUD has been operating the ACHA in administrative receivership since February 2016. In April, HUD announced it would begin relocating about 400 people, close to half of them children, from the Elmwood and McBride apartment complexes that have fallen into extreme disrepair. HUD officials told the residents that many would likely have to move outside of Cairo because of a lack of affordable housing options in the city.
In an interview on Friday, Bost said he wants to see the report made available for public inspection so that everyone has access to the review concerning what led to the housing crisis in Cairo. Bost said that he personally wants to review “where it went south, when it went south, when they (HUD) knew it went south …” to prevent this type of situation in the future and make policy changes that are needed to address why HUD’s oversight function apparently failed.
It doesn’t take away the pain of the immediate situation, but there are lessons to be learned here, Bost said.