Mother Jones: Donald Trump Asked, “What Do You Have to Lose?” This Illinois Town Found Out.

Mother Jones, July 2018: Donald Trump Asked, “What Do You Have to Lose?” This Illinois Town Found Out.

In April 2017, Demarion Duncan learned he’d have to move. That in itself would not be the end of the world; the McBride public housing project in Cairo, Illinois, where the 12-year-old Duncan lived with his mom, dad, and two younger siblings, was falling apart. A complex of 19 stucco-and-brick two-story apartment buildings abutting the Mississippi River levee on the backside of town, McBride was home to 103 families, including many of Duncan’s classmates, friends, and basketball teammates. But while a few units at McBride were still well maintained, others had mold in the bathrooms and flaking lead paint on the staircases. Heat worked sporadically; during cold snaps, Duncan, like many of his neighbors, bundled up and turned on the oven for warmth. Empty units and entire buildings were infested with roaches and rats.

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development had been debating what to do with public housing in Cairo for seven years and two presidential administrations, since federal inspections first uncovered grift, decay, and racial discrimination at the Alexander County Housing Authority. The mostly black residents of McBride and Elmwood, a sister project nearly two dozen blocks north that housed about 80 families, lived in squalor, while the white housing authority brass, under Executive Director James Wilson, blew public funds on boozy Vegas getaways and prioritized maintenance of the predominantly white high-rise across town. In the final year of the Obama administration, HUD placed the housing authority under receivership, but it left the future of Cairo’s public housing unresolved.

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