CAIRO — Workers will begin tearing down the Elmwood and McBride housing complexes sometime next month.

The Alexander County Housing Authority board voted Tuesday to award a $1.9 million demolition contract to RCRA Inc. (Earth Services) of Benton. Combined, the developments contained about 280 apartments.

Earth Services’ co-owner Josh Appleton said he expects that work will start within three to four weeks. Under the terms of the contract, the buildings are to be torn down and the land returned to park-like conditions by September. Appleton said his company intends to hire local individuals to assist with the tear-down project.

Earth Services was selected among eight bidders for the project, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD is administering the Alexander County Housing Authority in receivership.

HUD announced in April 2017 that it intended to demolish the buildings after assisting about 185 families in finding alternative housing options. The buildings have been vacant since late last summer.

Earth Services employs about 45 employees. Appleton said subcontractor Schemel Companies Inc., of Perryville, Missouri, will oversee asbestos abatement. A variety of heavy equipment will be used to raze the buildings, primarily excavators, bulldozers and wrecking balls, according to HUD.

HUD announced last September that ACHA would receive $6 million for the demolition of Elmwood and McBride under the agency’s Capital Fund Emergency Safety and Security Program. HUD officials said bids came in lower than anticipated in part because demolition projects are not required to comply with the Davis-Bacon Act. That 1931 federal law says that laborers must be paid local prevailing wages for public works projects.

Regional HUD officials are hopeful that some of the remaining funds can be used for the demolition of Mary Alice Meadows and Sunset Terrace, two public housing developments in Thebes that HUD has also closed in the county. Doing so would require the approval of senior HUD officials at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

“The paperwork for the demolition of Thebes has not been submitted yet,” HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said. “If we get to that point, we will ask to use part of the remaining funds.” Brown said that what isn’t used from the $6 million reward will be made available to other housing authorities across the country for emergency purposes.

In a statement, Brown said that it would have cost more than $7.5 million to make Elmwood and McBride safe. He noted that electrical and plumbing systems are out of date and that the buildings are poorly insulated. “In the end, the only responsible solution for these World War II-era buildings was to tear them down,” Brown said in the statement.

Residents also lived for years with mice, roaches, toxic mold and such poor heating that many families used their ovens to stay warm in the winter. Children were exposed to lead and asbestos hazards in some units.

Still, HUD gave the buildings passing grades for years during routine inspections while they fell apart.

The federal oversight agency also documented serious problems with local management for at least six years before taking significant steps to intervene. Once HUD did step in, placing the ACHA under its direct control, HUD announced that the housing authority was insolvent and that it lacked the ability to repair the existing housing or build new housing. Because of the lack of affordable housing in Cairo, some families that wanted to remain had to move to other communities. Last year, The Southern Illinoisan and ProPublica documented serious flaws with HUD’s systems for assessing properties and housing authorities. Prompted by the agency’s failures in Cairo, the HUD Office of Inspector General is in the process of surveying dozens of troubled housing authorities across the country.

Elmwood and McBride were constructed in the early 1940s. Elmwood was originally built for white families and McBride for black families, though they were occupied almost exclusively by African-American families in recent decades.

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On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​



Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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