A Cup of Coffee with… Ross Kinzler

Cup-manufacturedhomepronews1) Who, What and Where: (Your name, and your role/job title at organization or firm and where you are based.)

Ross Kinzler, executive director of the Wisconsin Housing Alliance based in the People’s Republic of Madison, Wisconsin.

2) Background (Educational/Professional before entering the factory-built housing arena):

I have a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in Political Science and Journalism. I had the pleasure of working as an intern assistant press secretary for Governor Pat Lucey which immediately led to a job with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards. I left in 1989 as Assistant Executive Director to become Executive Director of the Wisconsin Manufactured Housing Association.

3) When and How: (When and how you got into the Manufactured Home Industry and your association work.)

There were over 200 applicants for the job and I had never been in a manufactured home. What I brought was a set of skills as an association manager – and that was what the job entailed.

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

My wife and I love to travel. With a group of friends, we will go anywhere there is great wine and great scenery.

5) You’ve won a number of honors and recognition in the manufactured housing industry and because of your work from outside MH. Please share with our readers a brief run down of those awards, recognitions and honors.

I’ve been recognized twice as Executive Director of the Year by MHI and the Wisconsin Association awarded me the first Elmer Frey award for Leadership and Innovation.

Outside of the industry, I’ve been inducted into the Wisconsin Society of Association Executive’s Hall of Fame. The American Society of Association Executive awarded the Summit Award for Community Service to the Alliance under my leadership for a prison based home rehab program for the homeless.

Graphic-lost-decade-ross-kinzler

6) You’ve spoken and written about the fact that MH has suffered a “lost decade” and the impact that has on factors such as a low pre-owned home inventory. Give us your overview on that topic.

The lost decade started with the MH collapse in 2000. In subsequent years, one half of the homes produced at the peak of production were repossessed. FEMA units produced for Katrina victims later came back into the retail market and stole another segment of new home production. This lead to an 85% reduction in new home production (in my state it reached a 95% drop). Retailers closed and finally the industry cheered a rebound to 60,000 units. However, the drop off meant that low production levels would also mean few available used homes for communities to use as infill.

7) Sam Zell has said, paraphrasing, that there is a need to ‘protect the property line.’ Marty Lavin has said that the industry is suffering regulation by water boarding. Be it zoning, finance or other issues, there are those who think that manufactured housing is under assault. The other side of the coin are those who say that MH has brought these forces to bear through a combination of action/inaction. Your thoughts?

I’ve been mystified by why there has not been a national manufactured housing industry planned response to the collapse of home shipments. Why no regional or national summit? Why have retailers not marched on Washington? Community owners who had become lenders of last resort; now they don’t believe the fact that making those loans is not legal under CFPB rules.

Danny Ghorbani has said it. MHI has said it. But disbelief continues that Washington DC has the power to make or break this industry.

Some have escaped to modular production and sales but that is illusionary. Modular production is part of the solution but not THE solution.

Getting DC’s attention takes a unified approach. Sending lobbyists to DC is fine but a few regular busloads of business people would be more impressive.

Rick rand great value homes l ross kinzler wisconsin housing alliance rrand winning elmer fry award posted manufactured housing mhpronews

8) You’ve had considerable success on the state level with industry issues. 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?)

You always want to start at determining the solution you want first. That solution must be reasonable and not pie in the sky. Then work backward developing each of the steps that leads to that solution.

Too often associations start with beginning steps that essentially involve bargaining with itself. This leads to plans that don’t work.

For example, if the desired solution to the CFBP rules is (1) an exemption, (2) revised CFPB rules or (3) repeal of the CFPB rules, the steps to get to each are very different.

9) Not everyone understands how critical the roll each state or MH Community association plays in lobbying their U.S. Congressional Representative or Senators. Could you give MHProfessionals, those researching our industry and aficionados a bird’s eye view of what lobbying on federal and state issues at the same time is like?

Lobbying success depends on either money or people. The industry will likely never have enough money to play the game that way. Instead, we have to rely on our grassroots. We have many members that know members of Congress personally. That is step one. Gather those names and get them involved.

Second, right or wrong on an issue is in the eye of beholder. Success for us is based on whether Congress can see our position as favorable to average homeowners and homebuyers. Banking statistics will not move elected representatives (bureaucrats are a different story). I’ve observed a single mom testifying how a bill affects her and her kids completely obliterate a room full of lobbyists. We need those stories on our side.

Finally, our members have to reach out and be involved. They don’t need the “answer” to every question, they simply need to tell their story on how the law affects them and their buyers and residents.

10) National industry leadership is a routinely hot topic, which generally stays by the water coolers and bars, but is on people’s minds. On the one hand, the regulatory and political climate are about as tough as they ever have been. Even though the industry is about 5 years into its upturn, only about 1/3 of our historic new MH shipment averages. What this means is there are more challenges and less money from floor dues, etc. to deal with them. At the same time, the Industry can’t just let outside forces dictate our future. Leadership questions might be equated with frustration over a lack of clear progress. How do you see the industry advancing?

Leadership is earned. Leadership is easy if the members share a vision. The task is to organize the members around solutions.

HR 1779 fails to address several member’s problems, so no wonder there is a lack of a push from the members.

There is a need for a national industry discussion to find a shared solution that all can support. With all of the industry meetings over the next few months ahead of the new Congress in January, the time is now to develop that shared vision. Every state and every association is responsible for that.

11) There are some in our industry’s ranks that believe that not-for-profit organizations are ‘the enemy’ of our industry. There are organizations and voices, such as Ishbel Dickens, that want to treat community owners as ‘the enemy.’ At the same time, there are positive contributions being made by non-profits, such as the facts in the report urging American Bankers to do more MH lending. In a generic way, do you see a path towards better understanding and mutual cooperation between some home owner groups, non-profits that are pro-MH but may not at times be for some specific MH business or operational practice?

Non-profits have their own missions which sometimes mesh with ours and sometimes not. Homeowners have already invested in the industry! We can’t push them away without exploring where we can work together.

Some states, for example, repel against resident owned communities. Why? Competitors as buyers? Probably. But if you are selling, they are another buyer. As an owner, they are another owner type. We have mom and pop owners, REIT’s, corporation and resident owned communities. All have the same issues. Each have unique issues.

12) Paul Bradley, stated in a video interview with us, that there is a need for more MH cohesion. 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 more cohesion for the good of all concerned? How can we do a better job of reaching out to the public with what the GAO’s recent report essentially said is the best housing value in America?

I return to an earlier answer. We need to develop a shared vision for the future. Frankly, without one, the future is very bleak. We need to reverse:

1. 85% drop in shipments

2. Vacancies created by homes aging out

3. Street dealers left behind as the industry moves away from their business model

Instead, how do we:

1. Develop a secondary market for MH loans which will bring lenders back.

2. Prove our value proposition to legislators, regulators and the public.

3. Recapture the first time homebuyers market.

13) It seems that the CFPB’s recent report has given rise to a number of other reports by the media and non-profit groups. The most recent one in The Atlantic cites not-for-profit groups about 5 to 1 over MHI. While the report certainly has good points for MH, the industry routinely is being tagged for issues relating to personal property or ‘chattel lending,’ but there seems to be a false impression about why home-only lending rates are where they are. How can the industry gain more favorable traction with the mainstream media?

Certain non-profits and now the CFPB believe that fee simple is the answer for MH. Ask the millions of homeowners that lost their site built homes in 2007-2008 how secure was fee simple for them?

Home-only lending has its place since it removes the cost of land from the initial purchase.

Some industry reforms are way overdue. The first for each state to decouple MH titles from state department of motor vehicle agencies. This is a vestige of trailer days. The industry has to be as “housing-like” as possible.

14) In a trillion dollar a year U.S. housing market, with housing rental rates rising, one would think MH would be in a boom! Why aren’t we? 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?

We don’t have any shiny nickels. Local buzz follows new housing developments. Where are ours?

15) One of your peers told us off the record that the MH Industry has for too long built itself on the backs of those who are fundamentally not financable; meaning the lower end of the housing market. That entry level or lower end is getting ever more squeezed by regulators, who claim to be helping those most vulnerable, many of whom are now being left out of the MH home buying option all together. Jay Hamilton, who has worked in management in factory-built home production, knows retail at the ground level and is now a state executive from Georgia has said that manufactured housing has historically failed to invest in marketing and training. Drew’s prior Chairman, Leigh Abrams, has called for a robust, generic image campaign. Randy Rowe with Green Courte Partners made it part of his 5 point plan for industry recovery. Marty Lavin has written: “...we must never, ever think an Image Campaign on MH is not happening. The media is doing it for free!” What Marty is saying tongue in cheek, we’ve made a similar point by saying that the industry will either define ourselves or we will be defined by others. Your thoughts on the need for MH professionals to be able to attract, successfully engage with, sell and service more than just the lowest end of the housing market?

When there were numerous street dealers in Wisconsin, manufactured housing was on TV a lot. Now we have gone black except for the evening news when there is a crime story. How sad. TV is not the way people learn today. Web ads are cheap and can go viral if done with some humor. Our best minds need to come together and present a plan.

16) You are planning to wind down quite an amazing career. First, our sincere congratulations and thanks for all you’ve done. Any other industry related remarks or comments before we close?

I told the Wisconsin board I would stay for 5 years. Over 25 years later, I’m retiring in early 2016. It was the fun people in the industry that convinced me to stay.

I grew to respect the product and how it serves the country. The future can be bright if good people create a wide circle of support through their state and national associations. I’m a big believer in associations. You usually get the one you deserve. Great associations have involved members promoting common interests. The anti-trust warnings at meetings should all be re-written to say, “leave your personal interests, at home.” ##

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