Federal inspectors on-site at Alexander Co. Housing Authority

Alexander Co. HUD inspection
(Source: KFVS)
(Source: KFVS)
(Source: KFVS)
(Source: KFVS)
(Source: KFVS)
(Source: KFVS)

ALEXANDER COUNTY, IL (KFVS) - Federal inspectors were on-site in Cairo, Illinois on Tuesday, Feb. 2 assessing the living conditions of more than 400 people living in the Alexander County Housing Authority.

The Feds Still Digging

Engineers with the Housing and Urban Development office out of Chicago collected data from 72 random units in total within the ACHA, while assessing the ACHA's attentiveness to resident concerns.

Newly-appointed Director, Jason Ashmore, said the inspectors' appearance was planned before he came into the picture, and is a result of former management's illegal activity in years past.

The mismanagement in question was revealed in a 2014 federal investigation which found the McBride and Elmwood Housing complexes in Cairo fell into disrepair after the ACHA illegally spent cash meant to keep things in shape.

"It's inexcusable for them to be ignored as long as they have been," Ashmore said. "I feel we have the same goals as far as moving forward and improving conditions for the tenants here."

Working in Limbo

Two weeks prior, Sesser Mayor Jason Ashmore was named executive director of ACHA despite widespread resident objections, opposition from local leaders and a request from federal administrators the ACHA Board reconsider their selection.

Since Jan. 19, Ashmore said he has been working for free without contractual obligations or promises since the ACHA board has not supplied him with a contract yet.

"I'm just lending my help right now," Ashmore said Tuesday. "Whether they'll go back and pay me? I don't know, it doesn't matter to me."

"We have already told this man that we don't want him and that we want him to go back to Sesser," ACHA resident advocacy group member Paul Lambert said. "He's only here for a check."

Lambert's concerns echo those of many residents who believe Ashmore is not qualified for the position, since he has not been in management at a housing authority in the past.

"I do have experience working with such bodies, as I have in Sesser during my time as mayor," Ashmore said in January.

"The money does not exist"

The improvements Ashmore would presumably oversee of ACHA complexes were recently valued at more than $36.8 million, to correct disrepair and neglect.

"Do the funds exist? No they do not," said former interim ACHA director and Pulaski County Housing Authority director Joanne Pink when the damages were valued in November.

The study concluded in Nov. 2015 that, $7,143,000 of the nearly $37 million price tag are determined as "immediate needs to bring the buildings to applicable codes and standards, "provide a safe environment for tenants," and allow the buildings to pass inspection.

"If they got the money tomorrow and said we want to get this fixed," said Herrin-based firm Eggemeyer Associates Architects President Mark Dillon in November. "By the time they go through a design and bid process and construction, there's a year and a half to two years' worth of work right there."

"A budget in motion"

Ashmore said he hopes to have a budget crafted and public within two weeks.

When asked about the specifics of the budget, Ashmore vaguely responded that federal grants are available, and echoed comments made when he was appointed that he plans to have conversations with HUD to ascertain funding for improvements and repairs.

Ashmore said he hopes to have grant funding in motion within six months.

The last scheduled board meeting was canceled, and Ashmore says he had not met with members of the board since his appointment.

The ACHA is in violation of two voluntary compliance agreements, which Ashmore says he wishes to rectify within two months.

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