“It’s a Jewish tradition when someone dies to say, “May his or her memory be for blessing.” The actual honorific is “of blessed memory,” a translation of the Hebrew “zikhrono livrakha” (m.) or “zikhronah livrakha” (f.)…I tend to say, “May his or her memory be a blessing.”” – Nina Amir.
When a long-time industry friend and colleague of Howard Walker’s heard we planned this article, he asked us to say in this retrospective, “Be sure to say that Howard Walker was a Mensch.”
Howard Walker, JD, served as Equity LifeStyle Properties (ELS) Vice Chairman for many years. Sam Zell and several of their colleagues voted in the spring to keep his chair empty for a year.
That was a mark of honor for a man that hundreds of us in manufactured housing – especially in the land lease community sector – came to know.
Mr. Walker was a sharp man, who could be tough, and had a quick wit. You obviously don’t serve an industry giant in such a key role for so long without bringing a lot of experience and wisdom to the table.
Walker was trusted.
Howard served on the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) Executive Committee as a board member for several years.
Every time we drive into Tampa – dozens of times annually, as we pass Howard Ave near the airport – it serves as a silent reminder to us of the man.
Powerful Lesson from a Private Dinner with Howard Walker
Howard invited me to a private dinner for two in Tampa a few years ago, which yielded hours of conversation about the industry. We naturally also spoke about the Arlington, VA based MHI trade association.
Let’s note that it’s not my intention to reveal anything said by Howard that was shared in strict confidence. But some principles he espoused which where also shared with others will take center stage in what follows.
Specifically, the focus will be a concept which Howard himself shared with others, that he explained that he and ELS believe in.
It is fair to say that Walker felt that others in manufactured housing should also believe in the following principle. Here’s a specific gems that Walker stressed during that dinner.
“Tony, as a publicly traded company, ELS believes in transparency, in getting the facts out there.
If there is bad news, we get it out there. If there is good news, get it out there.”
– Howard Walker.
He then explained to me the wisdom of this approach.
On a different occasion that year, I was communicating with an ELS administrator, who interfaced with Walker and another one of their top people. I conversationally mentioned to her our plan not to put some bad news out on MHProNews that had just hit the mainstream news.
That ELS executive administrator asked me, ‘Why not get it out there for the industry to read and consider?’
Walker and that ELS executive level administrator were both logically correct. Why hide the truth? Both of those ELS team members shared a similar insight. They were applying a similar principle – related to the value of addressing what’s in the news, and transparency.
For clarity, it’s not that MHProNews ever ignored all bad news about the industry. From early on, the Daily Business News, the Masthead or one of our other modules periodically reported and specifically analyzed problem issues.
But there is sadly so much skewed reporting or problematic terminology about manufactured housing in the mainstream media, that if we reported on every piece of bad news, that could dominate all that MHProNews would do. We’d never have time to get to the good news on MHProNews or MHLivingNews. An example of recent useful – mostly good news – is the report linked below.
So, for years, the Daily Business News has strived for balance and accuracy. Here the industry professional or investor can consider the good, bad or ugly. The news is explored through the lens of informed industry professionals.
As any publisher does, we must curate – carefully select, pick and choose – what topics to cover. Then, we make the case as to why that curated story is important to the industry, officials, advocates, researchers, and investors.
It’s been a few years since that dinner conversation. But clearly, Howard Walker’s thoughtful gem on transparency stuck with me.
Howard Walker, MHProNews and the Sam Zell Interview
Howard facilitated our interview responses with Equity Lifestyle Properties (ELS) Chairman Sam Zell. He insured it would be an accurate reflection of what Mr. Zell said and meant. Those two parts of the Zell interview are linked below. They are classics.
- SamZell says “Our Way of Life is Very Much Threatened”
- SamZell, “The Point of the Spear” and “You’ve Got to Have Confidence”
The photo shown below by MHProNews of Zell, coupled with the quote shown, were among the Zell-isms Howard said were verified with the ELS Chairman.
Why did Walker facilitate that Zell interview? Isn’t that also an example of transparency, and the desire for accuracy? Isn’t it also a sign of trust?
It is fair to say that Howard was at times miffed – to put it politely – at some of our coverage about MHI, notably in the roughly last 2 years.
But he also overall praised our industry coverage as “thorough and unbiased reporting,” as a number of emails from him – including the one further below for publication – reflects.
The above tees up the following logical question.
How well, by the Howard Walker/ELS standard – has the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) held to the standard of “transparency?”
For the bulk of the time since MHProNews has existed, this publication could ask MHI, or any other trade association for comments and insights, and we would promptly get a reply.
As regular Daily Business News readers noted last week, MHProNews can get comments from other national or state trade associations, see examples of 6 in the housing/factory-built housing industry in just a matter of days, spotlighted in the report linked below.
Let’s flashback to the 2017 MHI meeting in San Antonio. There, this writer asked several MHI member-builders, as well as other MHI members and staff, about what the association’s position should be on Pam Danner at HUD. Keep in mind that this was several months prior to her removal as head of the Office of Manufactured Housing Programs, which occurred later in 2017. MHI staff would not answer that question. Why not? But numbers of members where happy to discuss the matter. More on that linked below, in the related resources.
Not long after that San Antonio meeting, MHI sent our firm a letter removing our firm from their membership. It was roughly that same time frame, that MHI stopped responding to questions from MHProNews. After years of membership, their written excuse was that it had ‘come to their attention’ that they had ‘no membership category’ for ‘news media.’ Never mind, that our operation does more than news, or that other MHI members publish too. If you are going to give an excuse, was their’s an example that any excuse will do?
Now consider that in juxtaposition to Howard Walker encouraging MHI leadership in writing to deepen their relationship with MHProNews.
What’s happened to transparency at MHI?
How would Walker or others objectively answer that question?
Walker praised this publication and our sister platform, MHLivingNews.com in writing and for publication. He never withdrew that statement, shown in the graphic further above.
Howard said that our brand of reporting was long overdue in manufactured housing.
Howard, let me respectfully suggest that your words – and that stated ELS principle on transparency – are more needed now in MHVille than ever. The industry is still at historically low levels of performance, as an MHI member-produced graphic below reveals.
Fair and necessary questions related to this gem of Walker’s should include:
- why during an affordable housing crisis is the manufactured home industry at such a relatively low level of new home production and sales?
- Why did MHI become so aloof from engagement here?
- Or why does MHI often fail to engage with mainstream media, when doing so could potentially get to the root issues that hold the industry back from more growth?
We’ll look more deeply into this and related in the days ahead. We may also find occasion to reveal a few more gems from Howard.
It goes without saying that the keen and colorful Howard Walker, Mensch, is missed.
May his memory be a blessing. May those words inspire thoughtful reflection. May he rest in peace. ## (Retrospective, industry events, analysis, and commentary.)
(Third party images, and content are provided under fair use guidelines.) Related Reports, are linked below…
By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – Masthead commentary, for MHProNews.com.
Tony is the multiple award-winning managing member of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com.
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