082315-nws-housing

A swing set without swings is one of the signs of neglect at McBride Place apartments in Cairo, a property of the Alexander County Housing Authority that is designated for families and single adults who are not otherwise elderly or living with a disability.

Secretary Castro,

The living conditions at Alexander County Housing Authority can't persist. Please, lend your influence to clean up this mess. 

Your name comes up whenever pundits speculate about Hillary Clinton's potential running mates.

You're young. You're Latino. You're Texan. You're a rising star in the Democratic Party with a ton of potential. Righting the rank, festering pit in Cairo could concurrently be both political and moral victories. 

For weeks, The Southern has detailed apparent abuse of public funds at Alexander County Housing Authority (ACHA). The evidence against former executive director James Wilson continued to mount in today's edition of The Southern.

Lavish trips. Gifts. Limousines and pricey meals. The paper trail is there. And it was begging to be exposed.

All the while, the residents have been voiceless. They live in squalor, among rodents. Crime has overtaken the housing projects. Residents have for years begged for help. Federal money flowed in to assure conditions remained acceptable. Yet, those in power were too busy blowing the cash on parties and vacations.

Children live in 71 percent of those apartments, Mr. Castro. Your agency reports the average annual income of an ACHA resident at just $8,600. It's the poorest county in the state. Decades of racial tension and political disinterest have left a third of the population in poverty.

Mr. Wilson wasn't kidding when he said ACHA employees may have "lived it up too good." It might be the understatement of the year. Jefferson County Housing Authority officials, recently contracted to run ACHA, have found ACHA's finances in a shambles. Keeping the office lights on are suddenly in question. The money is gone. 

ACHA and the federal funding it received was intended to provide for those most in need. By all accounts, it was Mr. Wilson's personal slush fund.

The abuse has caused suffering among hundreds. They're easy targets. The poor are the least likely to catch the ear of anyone in power. 

By all accounts, Jefferson County Housing Authority Director Tom Upchurch is doing all he can to address residents' needs. Upchurch's task is daunting but noble.

Last month, we called for a criminal investigation. All relevant agencies must assure that anyone guilty of a felonious fleecing of the taxpayer at ACHA pays for his or her actions.

But there's a more pressing issue staring us all in the face. The conditions throughout ACHA aren't fit for livestock.

It's unconscionable that citizens of a modern industrialized nation in the 21st century would be subject to such conditions, particularly in a public facility. It's a statement about who we are as a people. For all the lofty rhetoric and American exceptionalism tossed around by would-be presidents, the living conditions at ACHA is one of those examples that expose the country's ugly complexion.

It's just another "project" left to decay as they've done throughout the U.S. We feign shock when those stuck living in such an environment get angry. 

ACHA residents need immediate help. They report mold. They report rats. They report sick children. 

Maybe the housing units can be gutted and repaired. Or, maybe, the filth and neglect has gone on too long. Maybe new buildings and a new plan are the only fix. 

Only your agency has the means and the infrastructure to make those apartments worthy of human occupation. 

We join U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Mike Bost, who support a full review of ACHA's books. It's clear the cash hasn't been getting to those who need it.

But, in the meantime, there are more than 500 people living in inhumane conditions in Cairo. They need your help, Secretary Castro. It could be a win for everyone involved.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Southern Illinoisan editorial board, which consists of Publisher John Pfeifer, Editor Autumn Phillips, Opinion Page Editor Jon Alexander, Online Editor Alee Quick and community representative Jim Muir.

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