A Cup of Coffee with… Paul Bradley

Cup-manufacturedhomepronews1) Who, What and Where: (Your name, and your role/job title at organization or firm and where you are based.)
Paul Bradley, President, ROC USA, LLC, Concord, NH.
2) Background (Educational/Professional before entering the factory-built housing arena).

1986, BA, Economics, University of New Hampshire (UNH).

2006/7, Achieving Excellence in Community Development, Executive Education, NeighborWorks® America and John F. Kennedy School, Harvard University.

3) When and How: (When and how you got into the Manufactured/Modular Home/Community Industry).

I began helping homeowners buy and operate their MHC in October 1988. I had an interest in international development. I traveled to Central America twice for extended stays and was offered an opportunity to work in the Amazon on a start-up butterfly export operation but I missed my girlfriend – now my wife – too much!

I returned from my second trip to Central America flat broke and took a job in community development, working in mobile home parks! Frankly, I fell head over heels in love again. Working with homeowners who were so committed to making their neighborhoods great and secure places really inspired me.

4) What are your personal interests or hobbies? How do you like to spend non-work time?

I love basketball! I play in a league and pick-up when I can.

I also ride my mountain bike, play golf, garden, and swim as much as my schedule permits.

In reality, my family is my biggest hobby. If I’m not working, I’m hanging out with my wife and two daughters – 13 and 16.

5) Give us some history on your work in MH, prior to founding ROC USA.

I started in 1988 and worked through 2004 working with resident-owned communities on all issues – from buying and financing to operating communities. I left the Community Loan Fund for 18 months to manage the permitting, financing and construction of a 38,000-square-foot manufacturing facility for a local company and then I ran an economic development program for two years.

In 1998, I returned to manufactured housing and began to dramatically grow the portfolio and develop home-only financing in 2001 and a new 44-site development in 2002.

By 2006, there was growing demand for our services outside New Hampshire but the Community Loan Fund was not interested in expanding geographically. So, I spent two years planning and raising capital to launch ROC USA, a nonprofit social venture to scale resident ownership. We launched that in 2008.

In our first six years, we’ve helped 67 resident corporations purchase their communities and leverage $157MM in financing, including $83MM that we have financed directly from our balance sheet and loan participants. We now have ROCs in 14 states and from coast to coast! In total, over the last 30 years, we’ve helped 155 communities become resident-owned.

Our comparative advantage is pretty simple: We help homeowners with pre- and post-purchase expert assistance, pre-development and acquisition and rehab financing, and a host of member services (including marketing, leadership development, and online training) to help resident corporations buy and successfully operate their communities.

Rocusa org we own it banner a cup of coffee with paul bradley credit manufactured home living news com

Photo credit – Manufactured Home Living News –

ROC USA featured on NPR Broadcast.

The key has been having balance sheet capital – our own debt and equity readily available – that we have customized for resident purchases. That’s really made all the difference in the world.

Paul bradley president rocusa inside manufactured housing mh produced manufacturedhomes com mhpronews com

Paul Bradley, UNH class of 1986, president of ROC USA LLC,

was named the Carsey 2013 Social Innovator of the Year.

Photo Credit: UNH.edu.

6) A recent Masthead blog reported facts that ought to point to much higher levels of success than we see today. What do you consider to be the largest challenges facing the manufactured housing industry in general today? What do you see as possible solutions to those challenges?

I still like Randy Rowe’s keys to success in the community sector from his 2010 keynote at the Allen Roundtable in Arizona:

  1. Expand home financing options;
  2. Increase economic security for homeowners;
  3. Better home warranties;
  4. MLS for MH, although MHVillage is filling the void pretty nicely; and,
  5. Get behind a national image campaign.

Implicit in that is fostering a healthy home resale market – helping homebuyers buy existing stock – that is vital to every community owner. We’re doing that through home financing, community marketing and linkages to local retailers and other intermediaries.

Paul bradley left talking to mhc resident photo credit unh edu a cup of coffee with paul bradley posted mhpronews com

Paul Bradley talking to an MHC resident, photo credit UNH.edu.

7) How do you personally like to respond to challenges that come up for you professionally? (In other words, how do you try to tackle problems and arrive at effective solutions?)

First, I surround myself with really smart and dedicated people (I like hiring people who are smarter than I!).

Second, I do what a lot of people in my position do: I love collaboration and delegation is good with me. I seek out actionable ideas supported by someone who dedicates themselves to make it happen. Tell me you don’t think you can make it work and sure enough, you’re right!

Paul bradley motioning center president ceo rocusa photo credit unh edu a cup of coffee with paul bradley posted mhpronews com

Paul Bradley – motioning in the center of this discussion – photo credit, UNH.edu

I am also attentive to when I just need to make a decision as the person who’s ultimately in charge. I let debate happen and if a decision is needed, I make it. It’s a balance.

8) There are some in our industry’s ranks that believe that not-for-profit organizations are ‘the enemy’ of our industry. Please take a few moments and tell us how you’d answer those kind of critics?

I wonder, would they accept that some for-profit players in the business are enemies to the industry?

There are two types of nonprofits and both are driven by missions to serve low-income people. On the one hand, you have advocates. On the other, there are developer-types.

Advocates rattle cages by organizing and leveraging their political capital to level the playing field through regulatory and legal change. To some, a counter to a held position is an enemy, I get that.

To my ear, I actually think there’s more room for mutual understanding and progress than is being worked on. For certain, when people on both sides throw “enemy” around, they’re not on a path to talking about solutions. That’s power politics and rallying the base – it’s polarizing – and we know where that gets everyone.

On the other hand, ROC USA is a developer-type – we understand markets and business and we stay focused on business issues, on getting the job done. We work in the market, preserving MHCs through resident ownership. We and our locally owned resident-owned communities (ROCs) are very engaged in the commercial aspects of the business, and we create a lot of business opportunities for industry in the process, from appraisals to new home placements.

9) It seems that we as an industry need to learn to work with each other better. You referred to that in a video interview as the need for more cohesion. As another industry pro said, “we don’t have a product problem we have a communications problem.” How can the various ‘camps’ or voices in the industry achieve that for the good of all concerned? How can we do a better job of reaching out to the public with the best housing value in America?

S/he is not wrong but I would challenge this industry pro to think more deeply about the value proposition and customer experience with respect to the “product.” To my mind, there are some unit issues. We should not sell homes without eaves, period. We all know water must be shed from roof without risk of running behind the siding. C’mon.

And, there are placement issues. The guy who spent $30,000 on home rehab after a son’s disabling accident and who not two weeks later received a community closure notice is NOT a brand champion for owning a home on the land of another. This is the water cooler problem that the MHC sector owns.

Let’s face the facts. It’s hard to sell “homeownership” and “land lease” when there’s that kind of overhang in the market niche.

There may be some segmentation that could help with the fundamentals – a “secure” community product – and then a communication push. To say it is just communication is missing the depth of the challenges, I think.

We own it roc usa org a cup of coffee with paul bradley posted mhpronews

Photo credit ROCUSA.org.

10) Jay Hamilton, who has worked in management in factory built home production and now is a state association executive director, has said that manufactured housing has historically failed to invest in marketing and training. Do you think there is a correlation between that and our performance vis a vis conventional home building?

Training is one important part of supporting a disciplined approach to the business and cohesion in terms of marketing. It could only help. Yet, MH is not conventional in some important ways. Coming to terms with those differences runs deeper than training though.

11) Give us a snapshot of one or two of your ROC conversion projects, from the view point of the seller and the MHC resident who sees their community ‘go coop.’

Duvall Riverside Village in Duvall, Washington

The long-time community owner/developer tried twice before to sell the community to the homeowners but both failed because of a lack of financing. The third time was the charm because the broker – Joel Erlitz – knew us and our local affiliate – the Northwest Co-op Development Center – from Washington state industry tradeshows and he knew we could make it happen. The homeowners were very interested but not in a position to put up large sums of member equity. (We use a low share value model of co-op ownership called “limited equity cooperatives” because people are already bought into the community through their homes and because they don’t generally have a lot of available cash. Membership shares in our limited equity co-ops range between $100 and $1,000. A household can only acquire one membership interest on the One Member/One Share/One Vote rule.)

Duvall riverside village rocusa posted mhpronews com

Duvall Riverside Village in Duvall, Washington.

Joel said afterwards, “The business model that ROC USA has developed is superb. It was a different transaction in that you usually have to jump through a litany of different hoops in regard to banks and bank regulations. But that simply wasn’t the case here. I would certainly do it again, and I will.”

Cranberry Village in Carver, Mass.

A 279-home community acquired for $13.2MM in June 2012, Cranberry Village is the product of a local developer who built this 4 Star, 55+ community abutting some beautiful cranberry bogs. The homeowners acted quickly with the help of ROC USA’s local affiliate – the Cooperative Development Institute – to seize the opportunity and were able to acquire the community while maintaining their site fees and investing $500,000 in septic improvements and tree removal. Since taking ownership, they have also rehabbed the community building with volunteer labor. The past president of the Board, Colleen Preston, was elected by the resident-owned communities in the New England region to serve on the ROC USA Board of Directors, becoming one of my bosses in the process.

Cranberry village roc usa a cup of coffee with paul bradley posted mhpronews com

Cranberry Village in Carver, Mass.

12) A sticking point for some who look at the MH involved not-for-profits is the relationship between them and Ishbel Dickens and her organization. Ms. Dickens has said publicly that manufactured housing community owners are ‘the enemy,’ do you think there is a way to bridge the gap both in tone and tactics between such resident groups and community owners, so they can work more effectively with each other at the property and policy levels? If so, how? If not, why not?

I read Business Week’s article about Rand Paul and Corey Booker getting together around legislation just last night. Hey, if Rand Paul and Corey Booker can do it, then absolutely there is opportunity for people to get together and work out solutions in the MH market.

I think the condo/rent control issue in California desperately needs creating-middle-ground thinking. I bet there are lower cost solutions than the court battles under way now. But, who’s going to risk talking to the other side with something other than “see it my way or else!” mentality?

But, hey, we are the moderate middle from the start so it’s easy for me to say. I’m happy to work with people across the spectrum, but frankly, I am not spending time on policy issues and we’re not in California as yet. And, bottom-line: We have a business to run.

13) Any other industry related remarks or comments before we close?

Thank you for all you’re doing to share information about the many good things that are going on in the industry and for tackling challenging issues through MHProNews.com and ManufacturedHomeLivingNews.com. Keep up the good work! ##

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