“Finally, in 2018, a rallying cry, an apt theme, a worthy goal, for the manufactured housing industry! Here it is: Make Manufactured Housing Great Again!”
So said Vietnam veteran, MH Industry blogger, and retired Marine Lt. Col. George F. Allen, on 6.4.2018.
Perhaps he’s forgetting that ‘his’ theme was a headline and featured image he and a number of his readers likely saw here on the Daily Business News approaching two years ago. Note the date on the screen capture.
As an upcoming MHProNews report will demonstrate, there are:
- multi-billion-dollars-a-year in missed new manufactured home sales opportunities,
- as well as ethical reasons
why Allen’s recent blog-post is worthy of a few minutes consideration.
While some of what Allen wrote will debatably be shown as problematic, plagiaristic, etc., there are also a range of useful, timely, and important issues he has once again brought to light.
So, a careful reading of each part of this analysis is warranted. If you’re in a hurry, let’s politely suggest that you read this later, as a skim will likely cause misreading of this report.
Because even though he’s arguably ‘stepped in it’ here or there, the moving-toward-retirement Allen has provided a fresh glimpse at important issues. Thus, we’ll correct-the-record in the fisking of his post where needed, but the focus will be why his latest topic matters, though perhaps not always as he intended.
This analysis will also point out Allen’s reply to the controversy which erupted after mainstream media reporter Tyler Jett of the Chattanooga Times Free Press quoted Allen, and his COBA7/SECO buddy, Spencer Roane, defended embattled SECO board member, Thomas Lackey.
Lackey’s community business stands accused by several consumers, media, plus local officials, of allegedly “selling” homes “contract for title” that he did not own.
So, top to bottom, this will be a careful fact check, and analysis of issues that Allen raised and purports to address.
As Allen and Roane get stage-time, promotion, and support from some state associations, plus an industry museum, this analysis will be important for more than land-lease community operators. Allen and Company’s actions impact retailers, producers, associations, and thus all sectors in manufactured housing.
Each section of this analysis relates to the ethics, image, and profit issue raised in the report linked below.
With that prolouge, let’s follow several more lines from Allen’s latest missive.
“Yes, You’re…Right!” Says Allen
Continuing that ‘borrowed’ theme of “Make Manufactured Housing Great Again,” publisher and COBA7 leader Allen said this.
“Yes, you’re reading that right! It ‘says it all’,” opined Allen, “hinting at our turn of the century loss of easy access to chattel capital, to the reality that quality, energy efficient, attractive HUD-Code manufactured housing can be, & is, the practical answer to the ‘affordable housing’ crisis!”
There too, Allen borrows a theme from another article first published by MHLivingNews years ago. The linked articles can be accessed later, and are provided to document facts Allen neglected, or are otherwise related.
“The Solution to the Affordable Housing Crisis is Hiding in Plain Sight” – manufacturedhomelivingnews.com
“…lower rates of crime than you would expect, because they had pride of ownership …” – William P. McCarty , PhD – University of Illinois at Chicago, Department of Criminology, Law and Justice “What may be surprising to real estate licensees is the level of energy efficiency available …”
The refrain of “manufactured housing as the solution to the affordable housing crisis that is hiding in plain sight” is one which several mainstream media outlets have since picked up, using it in a positive way.
Bloomberg, HousingWire, Realtor and Fox all suggest Manufactured Homes as Important Solution for Affordable Housing in America – manufacturedhomelivingnews.com
While housing becomes more and more expensive across the United States, there’s a simple solution. For those who either want to be frugal and still get great quality or those who have limited funds, but desire to be a homeowner – the answer, suggests and HousingWire – could be modern manufactured homes.
Editorially, we note that even when MHProNews dives into a seemingly negative issue, it is with the intent to heal, not harm. Borrowing a principle from my better half’s profession, an untreated disease can kill a person. A proverbial cancer in a business can kill a firm too. Or if the plague spreads extensively enough, ‘cancer’ can be the death of a marginal or vulnerable industry. The proper response to phyiscal or professional illness isn’t turning a blind eye, but rather, to treat the causes of the issue.
Next comes Allen’s literal punch line, allegedly aimed at this publication.
“Plus, is the manufactured housing trade press up to the task of promoting this end, or still mired in backstabbing & innuendo?”
George, we’re not only “up for that challenge,” we’re happy to stand on our record of doing positive promotion and problem solving, not just talking about it.
As the above links demonstrated, it’s Allen who provided a selfy-style photo fit to sit next to the textbook definition of Chutzpah.
Some of Allen’s followers have periodically forwarded examples of his alleged “back stabbing,” so the quoted phrase arguably are more posturing for his audience than an actual challenge.
But for the second week in a row, what his opinion piece never does is directly address the serious allegations of wrongdoing raised by the Times Free Press, or the Daily Business News. What’s George’s Answer to the Times Free Press, and other allegations?
Allen’s answer is no answer. Instead, he arguably practices the Ds of duck, dodge, detract, distract, and defame.
The absence of any denials or correction from Allen leaves him reduced to name calling, finger pointing at others, and a series of interesting distractions. Said themes are perhaps an attempt to take his readers minds off the woes Allen, Roane, and Lackey have voluntarily stepped into, see the above linked article for more details.
Chutzpah and Hypocrisy or MAGA on Display? Decoding Allen
The above is arguably vintage Allen, according to veteran “Allen decoders,” which includes readers of his who are readers here. It’s his own readers who tipped us about some of his recent emailed messages, and posts.
Allen has “the chutzpah” to misappropriate themes first published by each of our trade media sites, while attempting to point fingers? Was that something he learned or taught in one of the Bible lessons he’s been known to share? If so, Oy-vez!
But in fairness, again, besides metaphorically inedible chaff (e.g.: some of his quotes above), Allen provides some fine wheat too, which will be examined further below. Both the chaff and the wheat are useful to understand, because he’s public.
He, Roane, and Lackey are part of the forging of the problematic image of our largely noble industry.
So, let’s dig deeper into the thoughts of Allen, an RV MH Hall of Fame inductee.
Allen’s Bold Red Herrings…
The timing of Allen’s chest-thumping and finger-pointing are both noteworthy. He admits in his own post that his star has been sinking, because he admits to declining attendance at his round-table, and in his readership.
While admitting declines, he then lashes out with verbal challenges he posed to his long-time peers, and supporters. On several levels, they are stunning.
Seemingly ignoring any suggestion that his or SECO’s Spencer Roane protection of scandal-challenged Tom Lackey – spotlighted by a mainstream media reporter Tyler Jett – was in any way flawed, he ignores those scandals and controversies, while lashing out at his peers and followers.
Allen – who his friends remind this writer knows and likes magic tricks – arguably attempts a series of verbal slights-of-hand.
Allen Lashes Out At Land Lease Community Owners, and Other Operations
Paraphrasing an unnamed source, Allen said:
“I cringe every time I hear someone talk of these [land lease manufactured home] communities as being ‘cash cows’ – ready for the milking; real estate brokers casually talk of how easy it is to upgrade; and, others advocate ‘fix & flip’ strategies. Every time someone overpays for one of these communities, the writing is on the wall, warning the rest of us will suffer the consequences.”
While there are elements of tasteless wheat present in that quote, how many of his followers realize that it’s Allen, Roane, and Lackey who are putting the reputation of good communities or honest retailers at risk?
Haven’t the apparently unrepentant trio made themselves the poster children for yet another series of problematic reports that make our industry look bad? Haven’t they done so at the precise time manufactured homes (MH) are needed by millions?
Chutzpah firmly in hand, Allen plows ahead.
“Your experience with neighboring communities that went downhill, reputation and appearance-wise, during 30 years of passing from one owner to another, is a sad but accurate testament to what happens when owners/operators don’t understand the cost of maintaining, let alone upgrading such properties; don’t have the funds to do so; or just don’t care,” the reportedly now-former MH Community owner Allen wrote.
Allen continues, “There’s nary a land lease community owner reading these words who hasn’t experienced similar scenarios, whether they’ve suffered the consequences of being a neighbor to such malaise or profiteering – or, sorry to say, are guilty of it themselves! Yes, this is where the image improvement, affordable housing, and desirable lifestyle cycle begins and ends. Where do your properties fit into this perennial cycle?”
“So, what are you doing; what are you willing to do, as a land lease community owner, to MAKE MANUFACTURED HOUSING GREAT AGAIN!?” said Allen.
Doesn’t he boldly ignore his, Roane’s, and Lackey’s hypocrisy? Isn’t the retired colonel finger-pointing in almost every direction – save the face in his mirror – odd, given he fails to hold himself or his colleagues to similar ethical standards?
Can you spell “Chutzpah,” George? Are you colonel up to the challenge of debating all of this publicly, on video?
Here Comes Red Meat. Allen’s Shots at MHI, and a Swing-and-a-Miss at MHARR
In addressing the issue raised by MHARR about the lack of an effective post-production sector association, Allen says the following.
“For example; it’s a given, HUD-Code housing manufacturers, the Big Three C firms in particular – who controlling 70%+/- national market share, are in the driver’s seat at the Manufactured Housing Institute they fund.”
On technical points, the soon—to-be-retiring Allen may not have noticed that the Skyline Champion deal closed Monday, so it’s no longer the 3Cs.
Nor did he notice the graphic below, which based upon their respective corporate data, reflects the fact that the big three now have 80 (+/-) percent of new HUD Code manufactured home production market share.
Factual errors aside, Allen’s next point is wheat.
“Weak Link? The post-production sector,” wrote Allen – with post-production sector = code words for MHI. “In fairness, this industry observer can only opine on one of several sectors, that comprised of land lease community owners/operators nationwide. And yes, in my opinion, that sector continues to ‘go begging’ for attention and support, via advocacy and representation, within and outside Washington, DC. Not much [to] point [to] here, to repeat the ills and shortfalls of [MHI/NCC] leadership to date…”
What’s interesting, is that Allen has privately and in writing admitted his COBA7 isn’t an association, and doesn’t do the work of an association.
The following is an extended, and interesting, extended quote from his June 4, 2018 blog. Typos are in the original (disclaimer/note: in our blizzard of publishing and other industry related work, we have typos too).
“Referring to the same MHARR Press Release, five tasks are recommended for attention to MHI and or, as MHARR puts it, “a new independent, collective, national post-production association.”. Heavily edited, they include:
- Aggressively engage in all aspects of manufactured housing consumer finance 1) including secondary market support for – and securitization of – all types of manufactured home loans…”, & 2) establish secondary market for home sales.
- Effectively oppose local regulatory and zoning barriers to all forms of affordable housing, and the development of land lease communities.
- Ensure reasonable, cost-effective housing installation and placement criteria promoting balance between regulation and affordability. Frost Free Foundations!
- Promote professional property management within land lease communities, as well as strong, effective representation and advocacy on the national level.
- Commit to and engage in national brand advertising, to stimulate and maintain growth and prosperity throughout the manufactured housing industry.
No question but that they’re many other measures to achieve this end, but it’s a start. Perhaps the overarching goal, among all manufactured housing-related trade sectors should simply, to
Make Manufactured Housing Great Again!”
There are several points worth pondering in the above, which was inspired by MHARR’s June report, linked here.
Final Swipes, Allen’s Own Admissions, and Contradictory Praise
Allen admits he’s no longer as diligent in writing, and is no longer as read as he once was. It’s a note of humility.
He praises other trade publications, including one where his own work appears. Go figure. It’s worth noting that he praised MHInsider, which in turn has recently promoted Allen again. MHInsider did so, even after he, Roane, and Lackey have attracted a wave of negative media. Those are the ‘insiders’ – their self-description – go figure.
But the oddity from the AllenWorld vantage point is that those periodicals are tilted strongly toward MHI, which Allen bashed moments before. If you want consistency in thought, is that Allen?
Then without naming the publications or the publisher he borrowed his blog post theme of – “Make Manufactured Housing Great Again” – namely, MHProNews and MHLivingNews, he takes the following vague shot.
Quoting that part verbatim, without editing or filling in via [brackets] intended or implied words, he says of this publication team;
“One online ezine, reportedly widely known – in this industry observer’s opinion – risks discrediting, as it brick bats those whose words and actions don’t mirror or support the editorial stance, and industry agenda, espoused by said ezine. One way to evaluate practitioners of such a fifth estate, is to number, identify, and critique the writing quality its’ stable of writers.”
It’s another classic Allenism, which only Allenites and Allen decoders can understand. Keep in mind the “decoding Allen” tip from a former Allen client, found in the article linked below. “With George, it’s AAA. All About Allen.”
Apparently, it is OK for Allen to critique the industry, which he clearly — and arguably, correctly — believes that critique is necessary to advance the cause of manufactured housing.
Let’s underscore that point of his, because a good critique, and analysis are needed to make the manufactured housing industry great again.
Put differently, Allen is right to say that there are several festering issues that are harming the industry’s advancement.
But what some of Allen’s own followers tell MHProNews is this. It’s essential to have standards to base a critique on. It’s about principles, not mere posturing. Lip service is posturing for an audience. Thus our topic on ethics, linked below.
Allen and this writer agree on some issues, such as the troubling patterns, and arguably abject failures of MHI to represent the interests of the industry at large.
Despite numerous efforts by this writer over the years to bridge the gap with Allen, and get him off mere platitudes and to consistently focus on issues that matter, the reality is it hasn’t worked yet.
Allen’s Several Gifts to the MH Industry
All that said, the debatably plagiarizing, narcissistic Allen has done, and/or has attempted to do, the industry several favors.
Before diving in, in fairness to the veteran, one should ask the following questions. Why is Allen so wounded? What demons does he battle?
One possible example might be how he was allegedly betrayed by the Manufactured Housing Institute/National Communities Council (MHI/NCC). How so?
Per sources, a few years ago, MHI/NCC entered into discussions with Allen to buy out his annual roundtable event, his publishing, and training. After several discussions, there was ultimately no deal made. But as part of the buyout discussions, MHI required Allen to enter into a non-disclosure agreement, and he revealed ‘everything’ to them during those discussions.
In turn, after failing to buy out Allen, MHI’s NCC division went into direct competition with a member/company. What MHI/NCC did by going into competition with their own dues-paying member was outrageous on its face, isn’t it?
As MHI has thus far refused to provide MHProNews with their bylaws and other non-profit documentation, it is uncertain if they violated Allen’s rights in that sense. That said, objectively and ethically speaking, it seems like a clear conflict-of-interest for MHI to compete with a smaller, dues paying member company.
Nor is Allen alone in that regard, again per past and/or present MHI member statements.
In as much as Allen too has called out, and finally quit MHI and the NCC – the later of which he and others helped co-found – he’s also done the industry a favor.
Tossing aside the chaff, here’s a summary of the wheat.
Summary of the Good Wheat
Mistakes or allegations aside, “Allen and Roane” by example did the following for MHVille.
1) Allen and Roane have shown the industry that motivated professionals can gather a group of hundreds of industry peers together. SECO is a nonprofit, COBA7 – per sources – is not. But they had the potential foundation for a genuine association.
2) With the correct elements, a number of which MHARR has listed (see linked related resources, further below), a new post-production sector can be forged. Will there be one or more post-production trade associations? That remains to be seen.
3) Allen has shown by painful example what MHI/NCC behavior looks like. What MHI/NCC did to Allen is copy several of his topics and services, and then proceed to give ‘them away with’ MHI/NCC memberships. That’s arguably unethical by MHI/NCC, and possibly illegal and/or legally actionable.
4) Isn’t what MHI/NCC alleged to have done to Allen a variation on what MHI award winner Marty Lavin says the association has done for years?
5) Putting that 4th point differently, Marty Lavin recently said that MHI works only for the interests of “the big boys.” The allegations, inferences – and by deductive reasoning – Allen and Lavin have made the following clear. If you aren’t a big boy operation, at MHI, your firm is a potential meal of a big boy.
Allen, Lavin, MHARR, we, and others have not necessarily been on the same page as to approaches. But all see the problems that have flowed from the Arlington, VA based Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI).
Frank Rolfe has sadly gone silent on this, allegedly enticed by Berkshire Hathaway ad dollars, and other benefits, per sources. But Rolfe was arguably correct in calling out MHI’s hypocrisy. He was debatably correct on saying that the industry’s greatest challenges are from within, i.e.: failures at MHI.
It’s on that point about MHI being a key part of the industry’s problem that:
- the AZ and NV associations – which are forming a new national communities/post-production trade association,
- and MHProNews, thanks to those who’ve made this industry leading site possible,
…all have agreed upon. It’s this.
MHI’s antics tilt toward the interests of a few big companies, arguably at the expense of smaller companies.
It’s sad that Allen has allegedly been wronged by an association he served for so many years. Perhaps there are good reasons for Allen’s bitterness, which may explain why he lashes out at voices – including ours – that share similar concerns.
It’s not our job to condemn anyone. But it is the job of media – including trade media – to hold “the powers that be” accountable. Speaking “truth to power” isn’t easy or fun. It’s not to be done lightly.
- To the extent Allen and others have raised the red flag about MHI, they are to be commended.
- To the degree that Allen and others have arguably been wronged by MHI, they deserve justice.
- To the degree that Allen, Roane, Lackey, and MHI have wronged others, they ought to make amends.
Again, in as much as various organizations or persons are failing to address the root issues that hold back the industry, for manufactured home professionals reading this, your share of the additional billions of dollars a year in sales are arguably being lost.
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By L. A. Tony’ Kovach, publisher of MHProNews.com.
Tony is the award-winning managing member of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com.