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

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).

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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.

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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.

molly.parker@thesouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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

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