CAIRO — Illinois’ housing agency is providing robust technical assistance to help the city of Cairo identify local housing needs, and develop a plan “to achieve its vision of growth over the long term.”
“IHDA’s community revitalization specialists will be meeting with Cairo officials, educational institutions, local businesses and other stakeholders to strategize future planning and investment for the city,” said Andrew Field, a spokesman for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, in a statement.
Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman said that Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed the technical assistance partnership as the community grappled with the loss of two large public housing complexes. Last spring, Housing and Urban Development officials announced plans to shutter Elmwood and McBride, which were home to about 185 families at the time.
“It’s not just housing. It’s an economic development plan for the city also,” Coleman said. The first meeting with IHDA and community stakeholders took place two weeks ago, and Coleman said the sizable turnout and conversation was encouraging.
Still, Coleman stressed that this work, while necessary for Cairo’s success, is not intended to produce results “right now."
“We’re in the process of rebuilding Cairo and that means you have to plan for the future,” Coleman said.
Field said IHDA staffers will offer their expertise to assist community leaders in developing “realistic housing goals.” IHDA, often described as a public bank, finances the creation and preservation of affordable housing in Illinois, primarily through use of the low-income housing tax credits.
Because the financing IHDA provides is developer-driven, Field said the goal of the technical assistance is to attract possible investors to bring affordable housing to the community "so current and future residents can call Cairo home."
Below are a few additional updates about housing in Cairo and Thebes.
22 Cairo families remain without housing
HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said that 22 families remain in Elmwood and McBride that have yet to identify housing. The agency has set a June 30 deadline for everyone to move or potentially face eviction proceedings. Brown said that HUD officials administering the Alexander County Housing Authority in receivership will “do everything possible to relocate families prior to eviction.” “An eviction, of course, can affect credit ratings and make it much harder to find suitable living arrangements," he said.
Cost to tear down Elmwood and McBride: $7.4 million
HUD officials estimate that it will cost about $7.4 million to demolish Elmwood and McBride, according to federal environmental assessment documents related to the demolition proposal. The assessment states that materials testing at the complexes last spring found asbestos and lead-containing building materials on the properties, as well as the presence of lead in some drinking water samples. Further, it states that if the two sites are not demolished “the property will be a health and safety risk to current residents” and “will become a health and safety risk to other residents of the city” if not properly secured, cleaned and eventually demolished.
Thebes mulls buying public housing properties
In February, HUD officials told about 30 families of two public housing complexes in Thebes that they would also have to leave their homes with the assistance of private-market rental assistance housing vouchers. HUD issued a notice seeking interest from potential private developers to purchase the property, but no one responded by the agency’s March deadline.
In recent weeks, Thebes Village Clerk Stormy Easton said a HUD official approached her asking if the village of about 400 people would like to purchase the property. Village leaders have expressed concern about the properties closing because the ACHA is its largest utility customer, accounting for about a third of monthly gas, water and sewer billing.
“We are exploring the option, but we are not sure if we have the funds to make it work,” Easton said. Asked if HUD officials would offer to commit some of the ACHA's capital funding to the Thebes properties should the village purchase them, Brown declined comment.
Thebes residents notified of rent reduction
Most public housing tenants in Thebes were notified that their rent has been reduced until which time they move. Rent is determined based on income, and all will continue to pay at least $50. To date, three families have relocated, Brown said. A deadline has not been set for families to vacate the Thebes properties.
Chairman: County not interested in taking ACHA back
HUD officials plan to end its receivership of the ACHA by year's end, but it's not clear who will take over its operations. Alexander County Board Chairman Chalen Tatum said the county does not intend to take it back under its umbrella.
Throughout most of Illinois, county board chairs (or mayors in some cases, if the housing authority serves a city jurisdiction) appoint housing authority board members, who in turn appoint directors and oversee operations. “We’re wanting a private company to take it over,” he said.
Brown, of HUD, said the agency is declining comment on transition plans “until we have a firm direction.”
ACHA receives $370K in additional capital funds
Housing authorities across the country received an unexpected boost in capital funding this month courtesy of Congress. It’s not enough to dig the nation’s housing authorities out of the multibillion-dollar hole in needed big-ticket item repairs like roofs and heating systems, but it is helping some agencies address neglected, high-priority needs.
ACHA received just over $1 million, compared to recent-year allocations of close to $670,000. The funding is distributed based on a formula, and the ACHA’s allocations included Elmwood and McBride even though it’s in the process of closing the two complexes. Brown said the ACHA’s plan for the additional, unexpected funding is to invest it in two high-rise structures and several other smaller developments in Cairo that will remain open.