Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson is pledging to do all he can to help displaced residents of two derelict public housing projects in the small, southern Illinois river town of Cairo.
The secretary paid a visit Tuesday to the town, which is on life support.
"There is a big problem here," Carson said at a hastily organized forum in the high school gym. "We have to do everything that we have the ability to do to fix it."
Earlier this year, Carson's department announced it would close rather than repair the Elmwood and McBride housing projects. Residents there have long complained of squalor and poor living conditions following years of alleged mismanagement by the scandal-ridden Alexander County Housing Authority.
At the forum Tuesday, residents of the projects like Steven Tarver pleaded for help from the secretary, a former neurosurgeon and onetime Republican presidential candidate who has had no government experience before his current position.
"When you were doing your operations, just like they called you and said, 'Dr. Carson, come, this heart needs to be repumped,' " Tarver said. "Our heart needs to be repumped."
Carson said he was in town to offer assurances that HUD will help everyone who wants to stay in Cairo to be able to do so. The agency has not given families a hard move-out date. But HUD has said it is no longer in the home construction business.
In an isolated town like Cairo, it is unclear where people will go once the projects are demolished. Of the estimated 400 people affected, only 10 families have found new housing, according to HUD.