CAIRO, IL – People throughout the community of Cairo, Illinois, are waiting to see if the town will soon lose a large chunk of its population.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which took over for the Alexander County Housing Authority last year, announced in April that it would tear down the Elmwood and McBride housing units. When those units come down, it will take away the housing of roughly 200 families.

Many in the community say they don’t want to go, but with little to no housing options in town, they may need to.

Others aren’t giving up on keeping the town’s population strong.  A new housing option is being created out of an old building in the community.  The building along Commercial Avenue in Cairo was recently bought by Shawnee Enterprises in Marion, Illinois, from HUD so the company could create more housing.

When the remodeling is done, there will be housing for roughly 24 people in the form of eight one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units.  People currently living in Elmwood and McBride will be given the first chance to move in.

Now that Shawnee Enterprises owns the building, crews are getting to work. They began cleaning Tuesday, digging in right away to renovating the building.

“We moved yesterday and got a lot of stuff out and cleaned, and today we’ve been focusing on paint and electrical, that type of thing,” said Shawnee Enterprises Manager Jim Covey.

Covey said the company bought the building through HUD to create apartments specifically for people soon to be displaced from Elmwood and McBride.

“For a town that’s taken quite a few steps backwards, this is a step forward, and we’re just excited to be a part of it,” Covey said. Crews only started working on the apartments Tuesday, but they’re hoping to have the units totally up and running by the middle of October so families can start moving in.

Crews aren’t wasting any time. They are painting apartments, changing out light bulbs and washing out appliances for future residents. It’s an amazing feeling, Covey said, knowing they’re helping families who are really in need.

“The hair stands up on the back of my neck. I mean, I can’t wait to show these folks once these units are done, because I know what this crew can do when they turn them,” Covey said.

“I wanted to see one of the apartments,” one Cairo community member said Tuesday, cautiously poking her head inside the building while crews worked.

“Come on,” Covey said, welcoming her inside for a quick tour. He said she’s not the only person to turn up to see the building. Many are interested in moving somewhere like that.

While there are no immediate plans to create more housing units like these around town once crews are finished, Covey said he’s not ruling out more projects like it in the future.

“Regardless of our income level, you deserve a nice place to live. And if it fits that focus and it’s in our area, we’ll look at it. And so, there’s always the potential for more,” he said.

Families who want to be considered for the new apartments need to contact the Alexander County Housing Authority in Cairo. Their applications will be collected, and the new tenants will be chosen through a lottery system for the sake of fairness.