PAYNEVILLE, KY—Habitrail For Humanity, the faith-based, non-profit group that builds networks of affordable, transparent-tube housing for needy families, has come under intense criticism for its recent projects in the Payneville area.
"This is no way for people to live," said Kentucky Family Outreach coordinator Martin Weiss, speaking Monday in front of a half-constructed, five-story Habitrail outside Payneville. "While it's true that poor Americans need a viable alternative to housing projects, placing them in large, confusing warrens of see-through cylinders is not the solution."
Habitrail For Humanity spokesman Nick Bulwer, whose organization has snapped together more than half a million linear feet of low-cost housing since its inception in 1976, said he was "baffled" by the criticism.
"The 5 million Americans at or below the poverty line pay over half their income for housing, and that's not even addressing the rising number of homeless families," Bulwer said. "Because of Habitrail For Humanity, another 600 families are inside, out of the rain, and away from danger every year. With the help of our no-interest mortgages, these people will be owning residences for the first time in their lives. After spending years in cramped, dirty apartments, they finally have enough room to scurry around."
Bulwer said the Payneville Habitrail is one of the most ambitious housing projects Habitrail For Humanity has ever built, with 17 rectangular, single-family living units linked to a shared three-story common area and a circular exercise room. The interconnected dwellings are expected to seal in over 200 needy individuals.
In spite of Habitrail For Humanity's plans to provide so many with homes, Weiss criticized the new structure.
"There's certainly a need for charitable organizations that help house the less fortunate," Weiss said. "But helping the needy piece together flimsy plastic tubes and then snapping the door shut after them gives them shelter at the expense of their dignity."
Comments like these failed to deter former North Carolina senator Jesse Helms and Kentucky-born Ashley Judd, who spent several hours Monday shoveling cedar shavings into the brand-new Payneville units.
"You see the way these unfortunate people are living, and it makes you wish they had someplace else to go," Judd said. "Well, Habitrail For Humanity gives them that place. It's a place they can finally call their own. It's absolutely inspiring, seeing the joy on someone's face when she works her way to the front door for the very first time."
Judd posed for a photo with future Habitrail resident Lionel Brinks.
"I like my new place," said Brinks, who had been staying at his aunt's housing-project apartment until he received a Habitrail For Humanity pamphlet along with his AFDC check. "There's lots of room to walk around, lots of light, and best of all, my family's not in the ghetto anymore. That place was full of animals."
Brinks' 7-year-old daughter Molly said she is excited about her new home.
"Climbing up to the dome on top with the other kids is fun," Molly said. "And a man comes in every day to give us food and fresh water. I like drinking from the big bottle in the corner. It's cool!"
Standing outside a recently closed housing system, Bulwer explained Habitrail's philosophy.
"Habitrail recipients don't need to be any race, color, or creed," Bulwer said. "The only requirement is that they need help. Plus, after they're in a nice, new home, you don't have to worry about them getting loose. We're looking forward to the day when we can turn to all of America's low-income families and say, 'Let us put a lid over your heads.'"
"Look!" added Bulwer, pointing through the clear sides of a brand-new living room. "The little one's on the exercise wheel! You can't tell me that isn't the cutest thing you've seen all day."