CAIRO — Federal housing officials are seeking proposals from private or nonprofit landlords interested in operating two public housing high-rises on the Ohio riverfront and a handful of other small apartment complexes and single-family homes scattered throughout Cairo.

In total, about 130 families currently live in these properties in the state’s southernmost city. The apartments, plus another two dozen or so that are unoccupied, are subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and owned by the Alexander County Housing Authority.

HUD seized control of the ACHA in 2016 after years of documenting poor living conditions and rampant fiscal mismanagement by local housing authority officials. 

More than 215 families have since been given tenant-based vouchers and moving assistance to relocate from four now-shuttered family public housing complexes in Cairo and Thebes. The agency is also looking for proposals to take ownership of the land where those buildings sit once the structures are torn down. Demolition is slated to begin this spring with Cairo's Elmwood and McBride properties. 

Alexander County Board members previously informed HUD that the county was not interested in taking the housing authority back under local control because of lackluster congressional support for public housing programs. That decision has left HUD in a lurch. Since then, the federal agency has been in talks with neighboring housing authorities and nonprofit and private landlords about their interest in taking over day-to-day operations of the remaining affordable housing units.

The notice seeking proposals of interest to purchase the housing authority's properties was issued on Dec. 21, the eve of the partial federal government shutdown that has furloughed most HUD employees. The agency is seeking proposals by Jan. 25, though the notice states that is not a hard deadline. HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said that HUD officials assigned to oversee the ACHA in receivership are working in Cairo, though they are not receiving a paycheck. 

The notice indicates that housing officials are willing to entertain a broad range of proposals from interested parties, "as there are a variety of methods to achieve ACHA's goals of removing these properties from its housing inventory." The agency will give preference to proposals that ensure any current and future rental units remain affordable to low-income families for the "longest period possible," according to the notice. 

However, this is not a bid process. The notice states housing officials will review all proposals, but are not bound to accept any of them. 

Interested buyers can make a proposal for some or all of the ACHA's properties as provided under seven different purchasing options.    

The two high-rises on the Ohio riverfront — the Connell Smith and Shuemaker buildings — mostly house seniors and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes. The other occupied units consist of four small garden-style apartment complexes and four single-family homes in Cairo. Though the proposal cites the limited availability of affordable family units in Alexander County, it says ACHA does not have the financial resources to assist with the redevelopment of any of the properties.

It does note work underway to improve the occupied apartment complexes, including updating units with fresh paint, and new faucets in kitchens and bathrooms, installing ceiling fans, window blinds and flooring, and the replacement of all electrical outlets.

But that renovation project may be halted by the government shutdown, according to Wesley Wilson, owner of W.W. Construction LLC, which is serving as the general contractor. Wilson said his crew will have to stop work on the public housing complexes after this week in order to focus on paying jobs until Congress and President Donald Trump reach a budget deal, or HUD officials otherwise determine they can continue payments under the contract he signed in October. Wilson said that his crew is not able to weather weeks without pay. 

Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman said he's comfortable with the buildings being sold as long as the buyer agrees to maintain the occupied apartments as subsidized housing. The city, he said, cannot afford to lose any more of its affordable housing stock. But Coleman said he trusts that those developments will remain open. The HUD officials assigned to Cairo have worked hard to make the best of a difficult situation, he said. Coleman said they have been responsive to the city's concerns and questions, even during the shutdown.

According to a spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, she and Sen. Dick Durbin are aware of HUD's notice seeking proposals from potential nonprofit and private landlords and have asked HUD to consult with them before making any final decisions. If the housing complexes are sold, they would no longer be considered public housing, but there are other options for maintaining the properties' subsidies under public-private partnerships.  

Brown, the HUD spokesman, said that if the agency is unable to locate a qualified landlord interested in taking over ownership and management of the occupied apartment complexes, HUD remains “committed to maintaining them as affordable units."

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On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​



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

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