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This week, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson made his long-anticipated visit to Cairo to see in person the city he said earlier this summer is “dying.”

While there, he toured the city, talked with residents and spoke during a public forum at Cairo Junior/Senior High School.

Going into the visit, there were questions as to what would happen. Would the visit actually change anything? What would it accomplish?

When it was all said and done, Carson said all the things Cairo residents probably wanted to hear.

Yes, he did admit there was grave issues in Cairo. That much has been obvious for some time. In April, HUD said residents of the McBride and Elmwood housing complexes have to move because the units are to be torn down.

Carson also said he hopes the visit will encourage greater economic opportunities at the confluence of the rivers.

But, he also said that HUD will continue to work with city officials to attract private investors to help build affordable housing in Cairo. “I think by the grace of God it’s possible to save this place as well,” Carson said.

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but it doesn’t address the immediate problem. Cairo residents need help now. Right now. Not in the distant future. Not in the near future. In fact, they’ve needed help for a long time now.

It’s been four months since HUD announced the plan to tear down the much-maligned housing complexes. Residents will be forced to find new housing – most of which is outside Alexander County. HUD has promised to provide vouchers to ease relocation costs. But many of the residents want to stay in Cairo, because, after all, it is home.

To offer nothing but hopeful and optimistic platitudes is an empty gesture by Carson. Residents need an answer as to where and when they have to move – not a long-range plan for new housing.

“I’m glad he did come so that he could see what our community is really about … But I don’t know how helpful it’s going to be at this point,” said Cairo Councilwoman Connie Williams.

Residents who are facing an immediate move need answers now. It’s not fair to promise things that might happen in the distant future.

We agree wholeheartedly that economic development is needed in Cairo. It is possible the Alexander County community could grow and get back to the prosperous place it once was. After all, the city sits on the confluence of two of the largest rivers in the U.S. – the Mississippi and Ohio.

State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, has been pushing to develop an inland river port terminal in Cairo – a fine idea given the location of the city. “He (Carson) knew a little bit about it. He knows a lot more now. I had an opportunity to speak with him personally and I talked to him about that and he sees the potential here and that’s what is so encouraging,” Fowler said.

We said months ago that we laud Fowler’s repeated efforts in Cairo. But, that kind of development takes time, a commodity currently in short supply for Cairo residents. The long-term thinking is hopeful, but does not help residents who need answers right now.

Another word that always gets thrown around when it comes to Cairo is “potential.” We heard it over and over again on Tuesday: “Cairo has great potential.”

And that is true – Cairo and its people have tremendous potential. But here’s the thing: Potential must be realized in order to benefit the people of Cairo. Until that potential is realized, it is just an empty word.

Cairo is in the midst of a great crisis. A lot of things need to fall into place to make things work again.

It’s going to take time to get Cairo back on its feet. Unfortunately, residents are faced with basic life-changing decisions – like where can they live – right now.

Hope and promises are a great thing, but residents needed more than that from Carson. He had several months to prepare for the visit. It wasn’t unrealistic to expect some real answers and concrete plans, even if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

After what they’ve been through, Cairo residents deserved better.


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