An MHMSM.com exclusive interview with Thayer Long
1) Who, What and Where:
Manufactured Housing Institute
2) Background (Educational/Professional before entering the factory-built housing arena):
Native of suburban Philadelphia, PA, graduated from Davidson College (Davidson, NC) with a degree in English. Moved to Washington, DC to originally pursue career in publishing, after a brief stint with the American Chemical Society, began political work for the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Experience there included working…
in regional field operations at the grassroots level, and state and local political operations where he worked on a number of different areas, including housing finance, building codes, growth and land use issues, construction liability, utility deregulation, and industry relations.
3) When and How: (When and how you got into the Manufactured/Modular Housing Industry)
Started with MHI in 2002 to work on state and local issues – particularly the zoning challenges the industry faces – and to work with public official and public interest groups to educate those important audiences on the benefits of manufactured and modular housing to meet housing challenges and address affordability issues. I’ve been with MHI ever since, gradually adding new areas of focus and responsibility.
4) What are your personal interests or hobbies? How do you like to spend non-work time?
I am an avid outdoorsman, history buff, gardener, golfer, and sports fan. Devote time volunteering to church related activities and service. Recently I’ve been well occupied enjoying time with our first child.
5) What do you consider the largest challenges facing the industry today?
The most significant hurdle continues to be the inability for many of our customers to find adequate financing for their home purchases. The financing did not dry up overnight – and I believe is suffering mainly as a result of lingering perception of past sins – not of current performance. I believe ultimately the availability of financing will improve as time continues, however it will require continued efforts by industry members and MHI to cultivate and grow this extremely important aspect of our industry.
I’m an eternal optimist, however, and so with challenges come opportunities. The economic environment this country is in is one where our industry historically sees high demand. This is because we can easily compete on all levels: aesthetics, amenities and affordability. In addition, the lifestyle we can provide to millions of homeowners is unmatched.
I also believe changing demographics are moving more and more in our favor. Rapid growth in the population under age 45 and over age 65, as well as the rising minority share, will shift the composition of housing demand over the next 20 years. These changes in the age distribution will mean greater demand for starter homes, rentals, and for senior housing. As the leading edge of the baby-boom generation reaches age 65, demand for retirement housing will rise. These are markets where we have great strength.
Also, for the first time in generations, households under the age of 55 are on a path to end the decade with lower real incomes than their predecessors, and echo boomers will likely enter the housing market with lower real incomes than people the same age did a decade ago. But echo boomers are also more demanding customers, and items and amenities once considered “added” value to homes, are quickly becoming “expected.” The need for quality housing that provides high level of amenities at an affordable price will be tremendous, and again, this is where we have great strength.
I believe the manufactured housing industry is building homes better than ever – and as homebuyers are looking to obtain the best value for their housing dollar – the manufactured housing industry has proved it can deliver.
6) How do you and MHI like to respond to challenges? (In other words, how do you try to tackle problems and arrive at effective solutions?)
I believe MHI’s achievements over the years with the regulatory agencies and federal legislators are due to a number of factors.
First, it helps that we have a wonderful story to tell. Housing Americans affordably and providing one of the most basic yet essential human needs is a mission of which we should all be proud.
Second, MHI operates from a consensus position, representing all interests of the industry. Some may perceive consensus as a weakness. I disagree. Consensus within an industry strengthens our ability to be an effective advocate for all segments of the industry. I think you would find that across the board in Washington, DC, there is good reason why a majority of associations are set up as a cross section of the industry’s they represent.
Finally, MHI believes in consistent and effective communication in every facet of what we do. This starts with a fundamental tenet: respect. You must always maintain a sense of mutual respect when working with people with different viewpoints, and respect is carried in tone as well as the message. When facing opposition – we never demonstrate a lack of respect for those sitting across from us – despite our disagreement. Particularly in Washington, DC, this is critical in order to create constructive relationships and be successful in accomplishing goals, and is a major reason why a call to MHI is the first action a policymaker or legislator will make when they come across any manufactured housing related issue. This often helps avert a small issue from becoming a big one.
7) What are some significant initiatives MHI has undertaken to support the industry?
Like our members, we have all been challenged fiscally – however I do not believe that has impacted our effectiveness in representing the industry. Over the past year MHI has been instrumental in the following:
Expanding access to capital for all our members – from consumer loans, to land-lease community lending programs and inventory financing – and is even developing strategies to help community operators doing in-house lending find more solutions;
Expedited implementation of the new FHA Title I (home only) reforms on June 1, 2009;
Hastened rulemaking by Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) on the GSE’s “duty to serve” the manufactured housing industry;
Expanded Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs to include inventory financing for manufactured homes;
Extending the $8,000 First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit and ensuring applicability for manufactured homebuyers;
Hastening Ginnie Mae’s lifting of the moratorium for issuers of securities back by FHA manufactured home loans;
Minimized impact of the Secure and Fair Credit Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing (SAFE) Act in the federal language, and helping minimize impact to retailers and lenders through federal rulemaking process;
Advocating for a significant tax credit to owners of pre-HUD-Code homes who purchase a new Energy Star manufactured homes;
Served as primary industry advocate with the HUD Office of Manufactured Housing including proposed changes to the standard and regulations of manufactured housing, changes to the quality control procedures for manufacturers, and weighing in on important issues such as code preemption;
Played a lead role with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to ensure implementation of energy amendments to the HUD Code considers our affordability factor, as directed by federal law.
I also think a tremendous amount of credit goes to our state association partners. They have done a yeoman’s job in advancing the industry causes under enormous constraints in their own states, and as the grassroots network, are also large contributors to successes in Washington, DC.
8) What do you think the broader industry can do to improve the climate for Manufactured/Modular Housing today?
I think the industry is almost there, but we need to perfect speaking with a unified voice. This is critical in ensuring the industry is advocating from the strongest position possible.
To get there, the industry must agree to assume responsibility and a leadership role in ensuring that manufactured housing remains relevant in today’s building environment. I think the homes themselves demonstrate there is no limit to the potential of what we can accomplish, and we should be doing everything within our power to protect that ability. It starts with acknowledging that the industry controls its own destiny – and we need to always think carefully how we choose to adapt to events surrounding us – and not expect them to adapt to us. This requires careful discussion and debate, and often long-term strategic thinking – the kind of stuff that happens at MHI – hence the number one reason why anyone in the business – and anyone who want to ensure their interests are looked after – should be a member of MHI!