- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

CAIRO, Ill. (AP) - Problems persist at a southern Illinois housing complex a year after federal officials stepped in.

Residents still report roaches, rats, mold and poor heating at apartment complexes within the Alexander County Housing Authority.

The Southern Illinoisan (http://bit.ly/2mwkuB0 ) reports that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took over the local housing authority last February, citing years of mismanagement and discriminatory practices by local managers.

“People look at those of us in public housing like we are a zit on society, basically,” said resident Kristen Simelton, who often keeps her grandchildren - ages 6, 3 and 2 - at her apartment while their mother works. “But, hey, we’re people too.”

Several former residents filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of Illinois in May 2016 against the housing authority and its former directors, James Wilson and Martha Franklin, alleging discrimination based on race and family status, and rent overcharges.

Leaks originating from upstairs toilets that trickle down to the apartments’ kitchens are among the countless allegations of unsafe and unsanitary housing cited by the 30-plus plaintiffs of the lawsuit.

Department reports and the newspaper’s previous reports allege that former managers and board members of the complex spent lavishly on themselves with taxpayer funds intended to benefit housing residents. Through their lawyers, the defendants have denied all allegations and seek a jury trial or dismissal of the lawsuit, which is scheduled to be heard in the summer of 2018.

Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman said it is long past due for someone to take responsibility for what has happened at the complex.

“I watched the presidential inauguration and I listened to the oath that was taken and it angered me, that part where it talks about to defend this country against enemies foreign and domestic,” Coleman said. “What happened with housing - that was domestic terrorism in one sense. You impacted a whole segment of the population. You left them to become, possibly, homeless. You impacted their health in a negative way.”

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com

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