Though he lauded the students for their "passion and devotion" to Cairo, he said: "After a lot of consideration, HUD has decided that the only available option is to help you and your families move to a safer, cleaner, healthier home."
With few housing options in Cairo, the situation could cause friends and families to split apart and would devastate the city and the school district's population.
In the letter, written on April 26 and hand-delivered by a HUD official Tuesday, Carson acknowledged "moving is hard and can be very stressful on families."
Sadness, worry and broken hearts were just some of the feelings expressed by the sixth graders in letters sent in April to Carson, whose agency decided to level two housing complexes some of the students call home.
"HUD is making us move away from family, friends, everybody that we love and care about," Pircola Brazil said as she read her letter on camera to the local newspaper, The Southern Illinoisan
A little more than a year after taking control of the Alexander County Housing Authority, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has decided to offer 183 families living in the two complexes vouchers to move. Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats, issued a statement welcoming the decision, but warning HUD should work "to mitigate the destabilizing effects of relocation."
The housing complexes were so mismanaged by the housing authority that HUD took control of them last year. The students describe conditions that include severe rodent infestation, but fear the upheaval caused by leveling the buildings could have dire consequences for their school and for the city of Cairo, which has suffered a major population decline.
The senators said the apartments were "overrun by rodents, roaches, mold and violent crime" and that the current situation is "the same, if not worse" than it was when HUD took over.
One student, Keri Williams, asked Carson "if you could help us."
Another student, Gabriella Lyas said: "Please try. I don't want to lose my home."
The senators invited Carson to visit Cairo to "see firsthand how dire and dangerous conditions have become" for some residents of Illinois's southernmost city.
Cairo School District Superintendent, Dr. Andrea Evers, said HUD is giving families 150 days to relocate from housing she called "a man-made disaster."
But she says the current plan will decimate the community, because there are no realistic housing options nearby.
"It's so, so, so sad," she said, adding she hopes HUD will decide to instead bring in FEMA trailers to house residents until adequate housing can be built.
She said 40%-50% of students in her district live in the housing complexes and that the families are "waiting for a miracle."
"We need a savior to come in," she said.
Evans said the residents of the housing complexes are mostly minority families.
Cairo has a long history of racial tensions including riots in the 1960s and lynchings earlier in the century.
The students' teacher, Mary Beth Goff, told The Southern Illinoisan, "I saw kids who were broken," which is when she encouraged them to write to Carson.