Metro-East News

Ben Carson came to East St. Louis to give back control of the housing authority

Even though East St. Louis now has local control over its own housing authority, there is still going to be some federal oversight of the agency.

When U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Thursday formally returned the East St. Louis Housing Authority to local control after more than 30 years under federal receivership, he briefly discussed what has been put in place to ensure corruption and financial mismanagement in the housing authority doesn’t happen again.

There is a five-person commission comprised of East St. Louis residents appointed by the Mayor Emeka Jackson-Hicks and approved by the City Council.

“The mayor has appointed a commission of five individuals who have undergone extensive training it terms of what to look for, and in fact there will be an oversight committee looking to make sure we’re not falling back into the same pattern. I don’t believe we’re going to,” Carson said. “I have enormous amount of confidence in the mayor you have here and your executive and a number of people ... I know where their heart is. I don’t think we’re going to see any of those problems anytime soon.”

HUD and East St. Louis have entered into a transition agreement that allows for a HUD oversight administrator to take an advisory role and monitor activities for the next two years in the East St. Louis Housing Authority which has more than 2,000 units and roughly 6,000 residents, officials said.

Carson said there have been improvements in the housing authority, services are better equaling or surpassing HUD standards, the facilities have improved, and laws have been satisfied.

“There’s much stronger, better trained leadership in place and in June of this year, HUD completed an assessment of the housing authority and determined the housing authority had built sufficient capacity in governance and operations to function independent of HUD’s direct control,” Carson said.

The board and new oversight administrator, Janice Rodriguez, will develop a long-term strategy to address the rehabilitation and replacement of aging units and infrastructure, Carson said.

“They will be watching the housing health of the housing authority and building its financial reserves,” Carson said. “There will be oversight of the administration of the housing authority.”

A HUD grant also is being used to acquire and develop new public housing units.

Bill Tamburrino, the outgoing receivership administrator, said East St. Louis has $1.9 million of federal money to use toward the design and construction of new public housing units.

He added the money isn’t meant to cover all the development costs. It can be used in conjunction with other funding sources such as low-income housing tax credits or in opportunities with mixed financed projects.

Carson and Jackson-Hicks were joined by East St. Louis Housing Authority Executive Director Mildred Motley, and U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, during the City Hall ceremony.

Jackson-Hicks called Thursday’s ceremony a milestone for residents and the city’s ongoing revitalization efforts.

“Over the past year and a half, HUD, the East St. Louis Housing Authority, members of the Advisory Board and I have developed a great working relationship to transition the housing authority back to local control,” Jackson-Hicks said. “I am thankful to these individuals for playing an intricate role in helping East St. Louis Housing Authority re-establish a new governance structure for accountability and transparency.”

She added: “We will continue to nurture our relationship with HUD and other public and private partners as East St. Louis reaches new heights. I am very appreciative, again, of the outstanding residents who agreed to serve as East St. Louis Housing Authority Board members and the city council's strong support of the new board.”

The East St. Louis Public Housing Authority had been under federal control since 1985, the first time HUD took receivership of an agency. The federal government cited “governance issues.”

Mismanagement of the authority had led to residents living in vermin-infested homes with no heat, leaking windows, appliances that didn’t work and crumbling ceilings that dropped bits into their food when they cooked. Residents organized protests led by the clergy and then they filed a class-action lawsuit against the housing authority.

Former executive director A. Wendell Wheadon was sentenced to seven years in federal prison for paying himself and another man $1.4 million for $150,000 worth of work.

Joseph Bustos: 618-239-2451, @JoeBReporter

Carson on Stockley protests

During HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s appearance in East St. Louis, he briefly commented on the ongoing protests over the Jason Stockley verdict.

  • “I’m saddened by the events that occurred and certainly our hearts go out to the family of the young man that was killed, to the police officers involved. I would say as a general statement, we as American people are not perfect, but we’re not each other’s enemy. We’ve got to understand we are not each other’s enemy. ... A house divided against itself cannot stand. It never has stood. It never will stand. We need to learn for defects in society and we need to use that learning to help improve the condition of everybody.”