Dozens of families in public housing in Cairo, Illinois, told to relocate over claims apartment wouldn’t survive earthquake

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CAIRO, IL — Families living in an apartment building in Cairo, Illinois, were informed Wednesday that they will have to relocate after the Alexander County Housing Authority informed them that the Department of Housing and Urban Development believes the building poses a health and safety risk related to the potential for earthquakes. 

A letter residents received, which a viewer shared with Local 6, says residents of the Connell F. Smith apartment building in Cairo will be required to relocate.

In part, the letter reads:

“HUD as learned through multiple engineering studies that the Smith building may not survive an earthquake event from the nearby New Madrid Seismic Zone. There are many variables that we cannot predict, including the location and magnitude of a potential earthquake. Therefore, HUD believes this poses a health and safety concern for the residents. Although we are unable to determine when an earthquake will take place, HUD wants to make sure that at no point in time our residents are in harm’s way.” 

The letter goes on to inform people living in the Smith building that they will have to move because of “these significant safety concerns.” The letter says the housing authority will provide them with relocations councilors; that families have the option to apply for public housing with neighboring programs in Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky; and that they are not expected to move out immediately. 

Southern Illinois nonprofit human services organization Arrowleaf claims Smith building residents will only have 30 days to find another home, and says more than 60 people will be impacted by the HUD decision. 

“Just as we did in 2017 for the 185 families being evicted from McBride and Elmwood Apartments in Cairo, we have set up a fund to help the Smith building residents relocate,” Arrowleaf said in a Facebook post Wednesday. 

Cairo made national headlines several years ago when HUD announced its decision to demolish the McBride and Elmwood apartment complexes. In 2017, HUD said those two complex were beyond repair after years of mismanagement, reporting more than 1,300 health and safety issues found during two inspections in 2016 and 2017. All residents were evicted as of 2018. 

Also in Alexander County, 31 families in Thebes were told to relocate after the Alexander County Housing Authority told them in 2018 that two apartment buildings would be torn down because it would be too expensive to improve them. In 2018, Local 6 spoke with a woman forced to leave her Thebes apartment just six months after she relocated there from the Elmwood complex. “I’m very mad at the people. They lied,” she told then-Local 6 reporter Logan Gay. “This was supposed to be a permanent place. This is not a permanent place.”

Between the Cairo closures and the Thebes closures, nearly 500 people were affected, ProPublica reported in April 2018 — with children making up nearly half that number. 

The fact that so many of those displaced by those past public housing closures were children created concerns about how the Cairo school district would fare after losing a large percentage of students. 

Additionally, in 2018 former Alexander County Housing Authority Director James Wilson was ordered to pay $500,000 in a settlement after HUD found that he made more than $900,000 in false expense claims while serving as ACHA director. 

Regarding the eventual closure of the Smith building, Arrowleaf says as it works to help residents relocate it will “work to verify that the individual resides at the Smith building and complete a needs assessment with each individual to ensure the purchase is necessary and within reason. Requests for assistance will be processed at our Cairo office located at 1401 Washington Ave.” 

The Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale reports that HUD committed five years ago to keep the Smith building open, and that the department has since invested millions of dollars into improvements there, including elevator and sewer system upgrades. The newspaper reports that residents attending a meeting about the decision expressed frustration and shared their doubts about the earthquake risk the department claims is behind the decision to move residents out. Many who live in the Smith building told HUD they don’t want to relocate, the Southern reports, quoting one man as saying: “Stop moving our people out of town. Build something new here.”

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October 27, 2022 at 07:04PM

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