Illegally used funds lead to poor living conditions in Cairo, IL - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Illegally used funds lead to poor living conditions in Cairo, IL

Cockroaches caught in trap on Monday in a McBride housing unit (Source: Loreto Cruz KFVS) Cockroaches caught in trap on Monday in a McBride housing unit (Source: Loreto Cruz KFVS)

Money meant to help ensure the health and safety of more than 300 Cairo, Illinois residents went to travel, training and consulting fees instead.

That's according to the findings of a federal investigation into the actions of the Alexander County Housing Authority.

The buildings at McBride Housing Complex in Cairo, one of the two Cairo complexes affected, were built in the early 1940s, and residents say their age has been showing for a number of years.

Complaints of roach, mice and rat infestations are common according to a few residents who say they have had to line the walls with chemicals to protect their children and pets.

Charlotte Veil said complaints have gone largely unanswered in the six years since she moved in.

“When I come in in the morning, I have about four or five of them [on the sink, and the] tub’s full,” Veil explained as she gestured around her roughly 6 ft. x 9 ft. bathroom. “I have to run the water to wash them out. And in [the vanity,] they’re all over.”

Another resident, Myra Rayford, claims to have similar problems.

“We have a bedbug problem, we’ve got mice, we’ve got roaches, tubs are falling in, heaters are blowing up,” Rayford explained on Monday. “My water heater ruptured and flooded my house, and all housing could tell me was that my furniture would dry out.”

Many residents pointed out worry of safety and security in the area, saying the sound of gunfire and violence is very common.

“I’m afraid to let my kids outside,” Rayford stated, “even in broad daylight."

The units are designed to be low-cost alternatives for low-income residents, with some unit prices starting at $50 per month.

“All of us don’t have an income and a high education to move forward you know,” Rayford explained. “Some of us are crawling and trying to get to that level, and until we do, we don’t want to live in chaos.”

The area violence, which is possibly gang-related according to several residents at the complex on Monday, is being monitored by Cairo Police, whose police chief told Housing Authorities they are increasing patrol in the area.

Following complaints, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducted a detailed investigation in 2014 on the properties and their management.

Findings show “significant misuse of funds” by the ACHA, and explain that financial records reveal the ACHA to be in violation of several state and federal laws.

The ACHA has also seen some time in recent years with no director, thereby crippling the organization’s ability to form a plan of action.

Former long-timer Cairo mayor and ACHA director Jim Wilson retired in 2014, but blamed many of the problems on the federal budget crises of recent years which bottlenecked federal ACHA funds and overall operating costs.

He also claimed the situation had worsened in the two and a half years since his absence.

Jefferson County Housing Authority Director Tom Upchurch said the interim ACHA director was on the job for roughly 30 days.

Upchurch was contacted in March by state and federal Housing Authority Administrators, after they had  advertised for, but failed to find a new ACHA director to step in.

“I’ve had great experiences with area police and administrators, who have told me they want to see things improve as much as the residents likely do,” Upchurch explained.

The Jefferson Co. Housing Authority, which Upchurch leads, maintains a 95 composite PHAS score, which rates housing authorities based on facility condition, number of vacancies, and a number of other factors.

“That’s a difficult score to maintain, and we’ve been fortunate enough to have the hardworking staff, and cooperative clientele needed to keep it,” Upchurch said on Monday.

Jefferson County Housing Authority has 308 public housing units, 12 rural developments, 99 section 8 vouchers issued, and another 4 units of public housing in the works.

Alexander county is slightly larger on the public housing spectrum with 400 available units, 70 of which are vacant.

Wilson said that the number of vacancies is far higher than when he was in office.

“Cairo and Mt. Vernon are very different,” Wilson said when asked for his thoughts on Upchurch’s assignment. “There are different area concerns, clientele background, and other issues they don’t have to deal with up there. I don’t see the benefit of having a guy from 100 miles away get paid for two jobs, but only work part time at both of them.”

Upchurch said his current priority is to conduct a full workout agreement to revamp the ACHA’s policies, finances and leadership in order to “get them going in the right direction.”

That includes assessments to be made by Eggemeyer; a third-party engineering firm in Herrin which will evaluate the condition of the buildings, and examine what is needed to repair or replace them.

If the studies show buildings are beyond repair, residents will be relocated by the housing authority.

Any decisions would have to be approved by HUD Region 5 in Chicago.

Those assessments are planned to last for six to eight weeks following the end of August.

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