July 23, 2019

Duckworth, Durbin Introduce Legislation to Help Communities Like Cairo Affected by Public Housing Fraud and Abuse


[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation yesterday redirecting federal resources to public housing residents and communities that have been the victims of fraud, like in Cairo, Illinois. The new Fairness for Housing Communities Act would direct certain public housing-related funds collected under the Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act (PFCRA) into a Fraud Compensation Fund at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Public housing authorities that were defrauded under the PFCRA would be eligible for funds distributed out of the Fraud Compensation Fund. Currently, any funds collected go to the U.S. Treasury, rather than affected communities. This legislation comes as former Alexander County Housing Authority (ACHA) executives have been ordered to pay more than $500,000 for penalties committed during their tenure.

“Cities like Cairo that have been the victims of mismanagement deserve accountability and restitution, and this legislation is a small step towards providing justice and reinvestment in these neglected communities,” Duckworth said. “Hardworking families in Alexander County and around our country need help, and ensuring ill-gotten gains go back to the communities they were stolen from will help local communities rebuild and restore hope, pride and prosperity.”

“We’ve seen in Cairo, Illinois, the damage caused when federal housing dollars are misused. This bill is about basic fairness and justice.  It ensures that when financial penalties are collected, that the money returns to residents and communities that were robbed blind.  No community should ever go through what we saw in Cairo,” said Durbin. 

Since being sworn into the Senate in 2017, Duckworth has worked to address the challenges faced by ACHA residents, hold those responsible for the crisis accountable and improve the Cairo economy. Duckworth has visited Cairo several times, secured a commitment for HUD Secretary Carson to visit and hear firsthand from residents and elevated the community’s needs to his attention during multiple meetings and calls, and placed a blanket hold on all HUD nominees after the agency failed to respond to her request for detailed information regarding its decision to shutter two additional AHCA facilities in Thebes, Illinois.

Last month, Duckworth and Durbin wrote to HUD Secretary Ben Carson requesting an update on the fines paid by former ACHA executives James Wilson and Martha Franklin. Wilson, after serving as ACHA executive director from 1989 through 2013, was ordered to pay $500,000 after admitting to making hundreds of false claims over a period of years and engaging in fraud as ACHA residents lived in squalor.

Duckworth also wrote the Creating American Investment, Redevelopment, and Opportunity (CAIRO) Task Force Act, which she introduced along with Durbin to form a Cabinet-level task force to address the housing, health and economic crises in Cairo. The CAIRO Act acknowledges that HUD had a role in Cairo’s economic decline, and therefore the federal government should play an active role in its recovery and revival. The legislation requires that the task force submit a report to Congress within six months of its establishment and each year after that outlines its progress.