HUD Secretary Ben Carson visits Cairo - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

HUD Secretary Ben Carson visits Cairo

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CAIRO -- There were few answers Tuesday about the Cairo housing crisis, despite a visit from U.S. Housing Secretary Dr. Ben Carson.

Carson toured dilapidated federal housing before meeting with residents during a public forum at the high school.

Secretary Carson was escorted into the Cairo High School gymnasium by Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman.

 "He's made some commitments to work with us and working with developers and different other things, and I'm going to hold him to that," said Coleman.

Carson didn't waste time jumping right into addressing the residents of McBride and Elmwood housing complexes.

"I think by the grace of God it's possible to save this place," said Carson. 

The people in Cairo say they have waited a long time to see Dr. Carson.

"They always say, where has he been? Has he visited? Should he visit? Is he going to visit? I think he just answered that call," said Elmwood resident Steven Tarver.

In April, federal HUD authorities told over 180 residents they would have to leave their homes, due to their deplorable condition. The news devastated McBride resident Coretta Cornelius, who says she hurt for her neighbors. Many of the places in which tenants were living suffered severe mold, plumbing and electrical issues.

They also had to deal with mouse and insect infestations.

"I had to wake up the next morning and then hear people like...well, I cried myself to sleep. To me that hurt more than hearing them telling us that they had to shut it down. These people had to cry themselves to sleep because they're hurt," said Cornelius 

She says she wanted secretary Carson to know that.

"To go back home and look at everybody who are my neighbors, all of my people that's out there, some of them don't have nowhere to go and that hurts to see that. Who do they have?"  

She says workers with HUD have been rude to residents.

"I've looked under HUD guidelines and there are options but they are not offering up those options to us, and I feel like that's unfair because we lived out here and paid our rent faithfully," said Cornelius.

HUD took over the Alexander Housing Authority after years of mismanagement and misuse of funds. Carson promised to move Cairo forward.

"I think the right steps involve preserving as many housing units as we possibly can," Carson told the people.

Tarver wanted asked Carson for an apology for calling his home a "dying community." His group, "Men of Power, Women of Strength," is working to recruit developers to rebuild new housing so people won't have to leave.

"Now it's got to be a community movement. It has to take people of the city of Cairo to make the city of Cairo back to what it used to be," said Tarver.

He says he didn't hear any real answers from Carson.

"I believe it was just more of a "frequent flyer miles" trip for him and the rest of the people who came. It was a beautiful setting, but as usual we have to got back into the trenches and do what's best for our own," added Tarver.

He wants to see people step up to make their own destiny. The group has a GoFundMe page called Cairo "Cairo in Crisis."

State and federal lawmakers joined the residents to hear Dr. Carson speak with residents. For the last several months Illinois lawmakers have pushed for Dr. Carson to visit Cairo.

"I want to focus really on the people, not on the politics. I'm not a politician," said Carson.

United State's Senator Tammy Duckworth hopes the visit will prompt immediate help.

"I'm also hopeful that he saw the potential for Cairo and this part of Illinois and what we can do here," said Duckworth.

Duckworth was just in Cairo about a month ago meeting with residents, and since his election State Senator Dale Fowler has visited the city several times.

He hopes to boost the economy by creating a Riverport Terminal.

"We can't dwell on the past. The past is the past. Let's move towards the future, lets build this city back and let's build southern Illinois back," said Fowler.

Duckworth says she and State Senator Dick Durbin have looked at options for residents and was hoping Secretary Carson would present more to the people.

"I didn't get a lot of real concrete, 'what are they doing next', but that's what Senator Durbin and I do. it's our job to stay on top and make sure it keeps moving along and we'll do that," said Duckworth.

Now that Secretary Carson has heard the cry of the people, Duckworth says she will push even harder to make sure residents have options and that legal action will take place against those who are responsible.

HUD officials had originally given residents a certain amount of time to move out. Tuesday, they told News 3, residents no longer have a time frame.

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