Manufactured housing is a bastard child of construction, but Charles McAfee puts it in an entirely new perspective.

On Nov. 6, I presided over the mid-year meeting in Chicago of the Construction Writers Association (CWA), which I am privileged to serve this year as president. The highlight for me was a presentation by Charles F. McAfee, FIAI, an architect from Kansas City who has made a splash in the modular housing field. For him, it's not as much a business as a crusade.

Manufactured housing is a bastard child of the construction industry. For the most part, it's out of sight and out of mind. When paid any heed at all, the manufactured housing sector is usually lumped with trailers at the bottom of the housing heap. That was pretty much my attitude prior to hearing McAfee.

A black man who has made it in a white man's world, McAfee spoke about obstacles overcome, and the need to address two crise facing the nation. One is affordable housing, the other a crisis of opportunity. McAfee Manufacturing tackles both. The company grew out of an award-winning architectural project the founder drew up years ago for a modular home. They have since expanded beyond single-family homes to build assisted-living facilities and, most recently, plan to build 30 hotels during the next five years through licensing from The Cendant Corp.

They employ mostly inner-city residents. Many are taken off the welfare rolls with no skills and poor work habits to get trained in various building trades. This isn't make-work. McAfee emphasizes quality in the homes they build. He expects his employees to grow out of his company's employment after a few years and get better paying jobs in the construction industry at large. Many have.

"People are amazed that the floors don't squeak," McAfee says. "They quickly realize that this is not cheap housing. This is affordable housing that any family would be happy with."

McAfee is one of the founders of the Automated Builders Consortium, a manufactured housing group that has adopted McAfee's principles of low-cost housing built by people who need jobs. His architectural firm, founded in 1963, was one of four companies leading design and construction management for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He told CWA of a recent conversation with former President Jimmy Carter and his former UN Ambassador Andrew Young about their renowned involvement with Habitat for Humanity.

McAfee regards Habitat for Humanity as a noble program, but pointed out that HfH recently celebrated its 80,000th house. "Here in America, we have 10 million people living in miserable housing," McAfee said. "Habitat for Humanity just can't do the job."

PM Engineer participates in a Habitat for Humanity project, which we firmly believe to be a worthwhile endeavor. But McAfee's point of view has to be taken seriously as well. Assembly-line construction lacks glamour, but it may well be the only way to fill a pressing social need.

To find out more about McAfee's activities, contact him at: McAfee Manufacturing Co., Inc., 1011 E. 13th St., Wichita, KS 67214, 316-267-3565.