The SSK Communities brand has been changed to Flagship Communities, but official state documents reveal that the SSK Communities name lives on.
Among the questions that raises is – what does the initials SSK mean?
A source with knowledge told MHProNews the following.
- S – Nathanial (i.e.: Nathan) G. Smith
- S – Alice Sparks
- K – Kurt Keeney.
That claim gains credence from official state documents. Listed in Kentucky for 2020 as Members/Managers for SSK Communities on 2.12.2020 are the following.
- Member Dennis Williams 3490 Sunbrite, Covington, Kentucky
- Member Kurtis Keeney 467 Erlanger Road Erlanger Ky 41018
- Member Nathan Smith 467 Erlanger Road Erlanger KY 41018
- Member Alice Sparks 817 Squire Hill Crescent Springs Ky 41017
- Member John Richter 15528 Aiken Road Louisville KY 40245
According to a source that claims knowledge, Nathan Smith has bragged on occasion that a key source for initial and other funding for SSK Communities was Alice Sparks. The original co-founding members of SSK were Smith, Sparks and Keeney.
MHProNews reached out to Alice Sparks for comments on various items related to this report, but that outreach – per sources – was diverted to others in the SSK/Flagship Communities team. Should Sparks – or others – who have information wish to respond or react to this or other reports on this topic, they are welcomed to do so.
Purportedly, Sparks – who apparently shares interests in the Democratic Party with “anti-Trump resistance” party superdelegate Nathan Smith – made the decision that she wanted to be bought out by Smith and Keeney.
For some time, per insider insights, Nathan Smith and Kurt Keeney have made various attempts to raise the capital necessary to accomplish that goal of buying Sparks out as an SSK partner. That reportedly included the possibility of being bought out/merged with another manufactured home community operator.
Those efforts by Smith and Keeney to raise sufficient capital or get bought out/merged into another land-lease community operator have been unsuccessful, MHProNews is told. Smith and Keeney have declined offers to comment to this point in time.
That seems to shed light on more than one issue related to the proposed and desired Flagship Communities IPO. But it also begs a significant question. Flagship stated in their potential investor presentation deck that none of the money from the IPO would go to company members. Is that clever wording, based on the thinly veiled notion that Flagship and SSK are different entities?
It is not entirely clear if Sparks has been discomforted by various legal actions, regulatory concerns, other complaints, and negative media that SSK has been involved in. But there are reasons to believe that some past and present staff at SSK Communities have not been particularly pleased by management.
Among some 17 online reviews published by former SSK Communities team members on a public website, the average rating for the firm was 2 out of 5 stars. Some sample comments are as follows. Typos are in the original.
> 2.0 stars – Small Company, typical favoritism (March 20, 2020).
> 4.0 stars – With hard work you are seen. (March 12, 2020) “I don’t think if I was in the situation I was in I wouldn’t have left. While yes, it was a lot to work with. It was still a great place to work very busy but always kept you going . Thank you everyone, I still appreciate everyone in the office!”
- Pros – Communication, work overflow was high but got help.
- Cons – Wish they just had better benefits!
> 2.0 stars – Too much for one person (January 28, 2020). “There was way too much work for one person. They would start me on one job then pull me off to do another then be mad because i didnt finish the first task., and this was constantly.”
> 1.0 star – Lack of communication and needed material from management in order to fulfill job requirements. (January 13, 2020). “Demanding position requires 24/7 attention. Lack of management support and direction causes emergency situations not to be repaired or vendors not to receive payment. This creates issues on community repaired and vendor availability. Company expects you do a job with little to no materials needed for task.”
That fourth comment came from a “property manager.”
So, as MHLivingNews has previously reported, the “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) that SSK Communities earned prior to their rebranding as Flagship Communities, seems to be echoed by concerns and complaints from within their company.
In the light of the legal action taken against SSK Communities by several of their one-time residents that claimed a pattern of predatory behavior which forced people out of their homes through non-renewal of leases, that raises other possible issues for Alice Sparks, who is known as a philanthropist, is actively engaged in civic activities, and is important enough for Kentucky Democratic Senate hopeful Amy McGrath to want to pose next to her in this tweet.
Proud to meet with philanthropist and businesswoman Alice Steven Sparks, the first woman to chair a public KY university (Go Norse!) and welcome her to the team. pic.twitter.com/GuzIPKBZC7
— Amy McGrath (@AmyMcGrathKY) June 21, 2020
Note to newcomers or occasional readers – that the report linked above includes two distinctive reports, part of it focused on Flagship/SSK Communities, with the balance focused on an entirely different manufactured home company, Nobility Homes. That noted, one of the court documents about a class action lawsuits against SSK is found as a linked download in that report.
The allegations in that suit against SSK are ugly. It hardly makes prominent Democrats look good, a so-called DINO – or “Democrat in Name Only.”
The original report published by MHProNews on this IPO drama is linked below.
Readership of that original report linked above has surged in the light of the first published follow up. It is one of the top read reports for the month, on this, the industry’s runaway most-read trade media.
Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI)/National Communities Council (NCC) Code of Ethical Conduct
Multiple sources within MHI have told MHProNews that the much ballyhooed MHI/NCC Code of Ethical Conduct has had zero enforcement steps taken. MHI has not confirmed or denied that claim. Yet, there have been several instances of MHI members – including, but not limited to, SSK Communities – having been featured prominently in negative media that sheds a poor light on the industry.
That viral – and negative impression of the manufactured home industry – video above sparked rent-control and other regulatory efforts, as the news video posted below reflects. Put differently, while claiming to be promoting the industry, the ‘black hat’ operations at MHI arguably are undermining the industry’s acceptance and growth. Doesn’t that explain the second year of declining sales during an affordable housing crisis?
That routinely drum beat of negative media – often from MHI members – helps explains the ‘barriers of entry’ that Flagship’s IPO proposal refers to, as evidenced in the slide below.
Additional Information, MHProNews Analysis and Commentary
For those who might mistakenly be led to believe that Flagship might be an upstanding corporate citizen, due to the fact that they are being considered for an IPO, is this comment from an insider to MHProNews.
“I have read a lot of public offerings and I honestly don’t think a [company’s] reputation is factored in for being approved by the regulatory agencies. I think their attitude is buyer beware and do your own due diligence.” The word in brackets was misspelled “companies” in the original message to MHProNews.
Sources say that there are reasons to believe that the affable “glad hander” Nathan Smith, whose ability to turn on the personal charm, is comfortable with problematic behavior. Evidence for that flows not only from current MHI members, but also from former MHI staff, as well as from the dismal BBB and published ratings of former employees.
For instance, when the ‘revolving door’ at MHI seemed to focus on complaints from female employees who said that there was a hostile work environment there, requests for Nathan Smith to intervene in the problems were purportedly met with the response, ‘If they [the female MHI staffers] don’t like it then they can leave.’ Several have.
To be clear, one former MHI staffer told MHProNews that the negative environment was not necessarily ‘sexual harassment’ in nature, but that it was nevertheless an oppressive scenario. The quote from a former SSK employee about “typical favoritism” may reflect the insiders and outsiders description that several have described MHI.
An MHI board member has said that as bad as serious communications had become between MHI and the board, it has only grown worse since the COVID19 pandemic.
Not to minimize the complaints of members and staff, but those may be viewed as a reflection of the larger picture at the Arlington, VA based trade group.
The various currents and ripples connected with the SSK/Flagship Communities drama underscores some of the key points of the thesis advanced by MHProNews analysis of what MHI has been about in recent years, notably since the dawn of the Berkshire Hathaway era. They include, but are not limited to the following:
- MHI in recent years exists for the benefit of its larger members.
- Smaller members, awards, and recognition to so-called white hat members are used to enhance the image of the so-called black hat members of MHI.
- Smaller members – through mixers at meetings – are given an opportunity to mingle with larger members who get to use that venue as a means of cultivating possible acquisitions. This has been described as “Buffett’s Buffet.”
- While there are some dual MHI and MHARR (Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform) members, MHARR stays focused on implementing good laws and trying to mitigate the harmful effects on smaller brands of onerous regulations and overreach. While MHI says in writing that they are seeking the same things, in practice, they fail to do the obvious steps that would bring about positive change that would unchain the industry from years of underperformance.
- That underperformance – along with negative media – create barriers of entry, persistence, and exit.
- Those in turn fuel sales of businesses to consolidators who routinely acquired properties or entities at discounted valuations.
- In such a scenario, the MHI antitrust guidelines are mere window dressing, not unlike their purportedly un-enforced Code of Ethical conduct.
Some reports relative to those concerns are linked below.
What Flagship’s IPO documents reveal in part is that some of the industry’s players are steadily working against the interests of independents. “Barriers of entry” work against the interests of independents and consumers, and arguably against taxpayers too, which may end up paying for renters subsidized housing, instead of seeing more manufactured home owners.
On a different level, the recent drama at Skyline Champion regarding independent retailers is also an illustration of those troubling allegations.
It remains to be seen if Flagship gets approved for trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange. As an informed source told MHProNews: “You may also want to check on the [TSX] exchange they plan on listing on as I don’t thinks it’s the main exchange but probably comparable to the “pink sheets” in the US. Can’t imagine their market cap will qualify them for anything else.”
As Wikipedia puts it, “Caveat emptor is Latin for “Let the buyer beware.” The experiences of former employees, claims made that Alice Sparks has grown uncomfortable with the relationship with Nathan Smith and Kurt Keeney, lawsuits, regulatory headaches, and years of periodic mainstream negative media, is ‘buyer beware’ a good piece of advice for any that may want to trust and ‘invest’ in those who are not trusted by numbers of individuals over a period of years?
See the related reports for more.
Programming notice: there are numerous additional documents and reports that MHProNews has already received on this SSK/Flagship/Nathan Smith/Kurt Keeney/IPO/MHI topic. Look for additional information to be published in the days ahead. To sign up for our industry leading emailed headline news, click below and sign up free in seconds.
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By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – for MHProNews.com.
Tony earned a journalism scholarship and earned numerous awards in history and in manufactured housing.
For example, he earned the prestigious Lottinville Award in history from the University of Oklahoma, where he studied history and business management. He’s a managing member and co-founder of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com.
This article reflects the LLC’s and/or the writer’s position, and may or may not reflect the views of sponsors or supporters.
Connect on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/latonykovach
The text/image boxes below are linked to other reports, which can be accessed by clicking on them.
Communities, Assoc Exposé – Whistleblower “Leaks” – Lesli Gooch Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) CEO and Sheila S. Dey, Executive Director Western Manufactured Housing Communities Association (WMA)