NPR在线收听:Carson Promises To Help Residents Of Housing Projects His Department Is Shutting Down



Housing Secretary Ben Carson is pledging to do all he can to help hundreds of residents who will be displaced from two run-down public housing projects in Cairo, Ill. A few months back, Carson's agency announced it will close, rather than repair, those projects, where many of the town's remaining residents live. NPR's Kirk Siegler has been covering the CRIsis. He reports that Secretary Carson paid a surprise visit yesterday to a town that's on life support.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Cairo used to be a thriving river port at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. But decades of corruption, economic upheaval and racial tension led it to being one of the fastest depopulating towns in the nation. And today, Cairo's struggles raise all kinds of questions about what can or should be done to save small towns. The despair there is palpable when you listen to Steven Tarver address Secretary Ben Carson, during this hastily organized forum at the high school gym.


STEVEN TARVER: When you were doing your operations, just like they called you and said, Dr. Carson, come, this heart needs to be re-pumped.

SIEGLER: Tarver is talking in a video of the event streamed by the Southern Illinoisan newspaper.


TARVER: You came here today. Our heart needs to be re-pumped.


SIEGLER: Secretary Carson, the former neurosurgeon, said he came to assure people that HUD will help everyone who wants to stay in Cairo do so. The agency has declared the apartments of the projects unlivable but hasn't yet given families a hard and fast move-out date. Now, the acoustics were lousy in the gym, and the soft-spoken Carson was tough to hear.


BEN CARSON: There is a big problem here.

SIEGLER: But he said federal and local officials have to do everything in their ability to fix the CRIsis. Carson was light on specifics. HUD has said it's no longer in the home construction business. So in an isolated town like Cairo, it's not clear where folks will go once the projects get demolished.

PHILLIP MATTHEWS: You know all we need is time.

SIEGLER: Community leaders like Pastor Phillip Matthews say the town is close to inking a deal with a private developer to build more public housing. Matthews met with Carson privately yesterday and left feeling encouraged for the first time in years.

MATTHEWS: You're not going to get anything done if a person comes to a meeting with a closed mind. But if you come objectively, which I believe that he did - and he listened, and he asked questions.

SIEGLER: Of course, none of this is much solace for people like Melvin Duncan, who are in CRIsis right now.

MELVIN DUNCAN: I think it's a political thing - the reason why he's coming down here - because he already sent a letter saying it's unfortunate, but we can't help you.

SIEGLER: Duncan, who's 38, has lived in the projects most of his life. His job and his family are in Cairo.

DUNCAN: This here is my home. Before they tore down our hospital, I was born in that hospital.

SIEGLER: Duncan has told me several times he'll be the last to leave the projects. They'll have to drag him out. So far of the 400 people affected in Cairo, only 10 families have found new housing. Kirk Siegler, NPR News.


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