Ben Carson Declared Mission Accomplished in East St. Louis – Where Public Housing is Still a Disaster

By on August 9, 2018

From ProPublica:  This article was produced in partnership with The Southern Illinoisan, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

The city’s administrative building was decorated for a festive affair when U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson arrived here last September. An Americana themed banner draped the back of a raised stage. Red, white and blue balloons floated in the foreground.

“This is really an exciting day,” Carson told a crowd of a few dozen city and community leaders. “It is a day of transition and a day of progress.”

In October 1985, HUD officials arrived here unannounced and seized control of the East St. Louis Housing Authority, citing poor living conditions and fraud. Carson was in town to return it to local control.

In a brief speech, Carson said that when former President Ronald Reagan’s HUD took over the housing authority five presidential administrations ago, “the residents were at risk, and the future of our children was at risk.”

“Not anymore,” he boldly declared.

In the months leading up to Carson’s visit, however, HUD’s own inspectors had failed nine of East St. Louis’ 12 sprawling public housing projects, citing a wide variety of health and safety violations, according to federal records obtained by The Southern Illinoisan.

Inspectors reported such problems as windows and doors that didn’t lock, infestation, mold and mildew, fire safety violations, holes in walls, broken appliances, peeling paint and missing lead-based paint inspection reports. Among the properties that failed, HUD inspectors estimated an astounding 5,405 violations. One-quarter were deemed life threatening.

In at least one case, persistent security problems may have played a role in a tenant’s death.

Just weeks prior to Carson’s appearance, an intruder broke into 23-year-old Alexis Winston’s apartment owned by the East St. Louis Housing Authority and killed her in front of her toddler.

Around 4 a.m. on Aug. 8, 2017, Winston made a frantic call to 911, told dispatchers someone was trying to break in, screamed and hung up the phone. When police arrived at the John Robinson Homes, they found her first-floor kitchen window shattered and Winston dead upstairs, her body on the right side of her bed. Her toddler was in a nearby playpen.

In the months preceding her death, Winston made repeated requests to the housing authority, then still under HUD’s control, to fix the window, according to family and friends. It didn’t lock and was missing a security screen, commonly seen on other windows throughout the apartment complex. Winston’s complex failed its HUD inspection last year.

Carson did not tour any public housing complexes in East St. Louis when he visited last September,HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said in a written response to questions. At the time, Carson also was not aware of Winston’s death, Brown wrote. Asked if Carson stood by his remarks, the spokesman declined to comment.

Read more.

 

About Dede Hance

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *