State

Ben Carson says despite public housing crisis, Cairo can be saved

U.S. Secretary Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson responds to questions during an interview with The Southern Illinoisan newspaper, Tuesday Aug. 8, 2017, in the Alexander Housing Authority Shuemaker Building in Cairo, Ill. (Richard Sitler /The Southern Illinoisan via AP)
U.S. Secretary Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson responds to questions during an interview with The Southern Illinoisan newspaper, Tuesday Aug. 8, 2017, in the Alexander Housing Authority Shuemaker Building in Cairo, Ill. (Richard Sitler /The Southern Illinoisan via AP)

CAIRO – Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson visited Cairo, Illinois, on Tuesday and told local residents that through creative approaches, rare procedures, "and by the grace of God," the city can be saved.

Carson visited the southern Illinois town as two public housing complexes are being torn down, forcing hundreds of residents to find new homes. He said HUD is working hard to keep as many people in Cairo as possible who are being displaced from the two projects.

The Elmwood and McBride public housing projects were constructed in the 1940s and have fallen into extreme disrepair because of their age and decades of neglect. About 200 families have been forced to relocate.

That's particularly difficult in the town of about 2,600 residents in a rural area and has prompted fears the once-thriving city could be endangered if hundreds of people move elsewhere.

Carson told a crowd at Cairo Junior/Senior High School that his team would take a holistic approach to dealing with the crisis. The department will work with city leaders to determine if there's still the potential to attract private investors to partner with the government to build new affordable housing in Cairo.

He said the city's location at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, a viable rail system and the highway system "make this area a prime candidate for economic development."

State Sen. Dale Fowler said he was pleased Carson responded enthusiastically to efforts to develop an inland river port terminal here.

"He knew a little bit about it," Fowler said. "He knows a lot more now."

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth said she rearranged her schedule to attend the meeting with Carson.

"This community is one that feels like it has not had the champions who have followed through," she said, adding she is committed to understanding the scope of the housing crisis and the economy of the area.

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