HUD recovery team working to improve poor living conditions in Cairo, Ill.

Horrible living conditions are starting to improve for one local community. Paul Lambert, who has lived in Cairo’s public housing for 38 years, is no stranger to how bad conditions can get.

“Living conditions are deplorable. It’s a mess. You go into their units, looks like a bomb went off in it. You got rats, roaches, bed bugs, mice, mold all of that is in these apartments," Lambert said. 

In late February, we told you the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took over the Alexander County Housing Authority.  HUD says the takeover was partially due to years of financial and operational mismanagement and poor housing condition.

A HUD recovery team sent in to help and run the housing authority hosted a meeting Monday night with Illinois Senator Dick Durbin to address tenants concerns.

HUD Co-Recovery Administrator Towanda Macon says changes, like replacing everyone’s locks and getting rid of all pests, logistically can’t happen overnight, but they’re working on it.

“We’re continuing to assess. We’ve made some improvements. But as you know since, February 22, it’s not been a very long time. So, we are working to figure out what our next steps are,” Macon said.

She says the goal is to recover the housing authority.

“We are going to make sure it’s done, and it’s done correctly,” Macon said.

The out-of-town team is running the day-to-day operations of a housing authority while figuring out community concerns, like crime.

“We want to build capacity, and we want to make sure the housing authority operates in the way that it should,” Macon said.

“I think they are. I know it’s going to take time to make changes,” Lambert said.

Lambert still has some trust issues with HUD but is thankful they’re here.

“If it [wasn’t] for HUD being here, this problem would still be going on,” Lambert said.

Macon says there isn’t a set timeline for how long they’ll be running the housing authority. It all depends on how quickly living conditions improve. The team did say everyone, including tenants, need to play a part in maintaining their homes.

There are 494 units; 150 of them are empty and not suitable to live in. Macon says some units could take a year to clean up. The HUD recovery team is also talking with contractors to do lead-based paint and water testing in all the units. 

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