Leading the Industry Out of its Worst Crisis

Why does the manufactured housing industry maintain a collective representation and presence in the nation’s capital? What are its purposes? What are its objectives?

The short answer, especially in a crisis such as the one that today confronts the manufactured housing industry, is that those charged with representing the industry’s interests have a duty and obligation to lead — a responsibility to tackle difficult issues and take action that is targeted, focused and effective.

For MHARR, fulfilling this duty goes back to bedrock principles established by industry pioneers nearly three decades ago and practiced ever since. An unshakable commitment to — and pride in — a product that has evolved and improved continuously and stands today as the best value in housing. An identical commitment to – and pride in — an industry that has mastered technology and innovation to produce its best homes ever; an industry that enjoys the support and appreciation of lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle, but still faces significant challenges that must be met and addressed effectively, without abandoning the building blocks that have fueled the industry’s success over the long term,

While the central role of proper industry representation in Washington, D.C. may not be apparent to some, the fact is that manufactured housing, as an industry, is regulated or directly impacted, in nearly all of its aspects, by laws, regulations, policies and decisions that are conceived, advanced, debated and ultimately decided in the nation’s capital, to a greater degree than any other segment of the housing industry. To be certain, the industry is also affected by requirements and decisions at the state and local level and by developments within the private sector. But the extent, scope and sheer magnitude of comprehensive federal regulation and the pervasive federal role in consumer financing today, logically and practically compel an orientation that focuses on events and activity in Washington, D.C.

Put differently, the industry can offer its best products, can innovate, and can follow the “best practices” known to man, but if its path is blocked by outdated, inflexible, or simply hostile thinking and policies in the nation’s capital, or if its congressionally-recognized mission to provide affordable non-subsidized housing is dismissed or actively undermined by decision-makers with a different agenda or who simply do not care, the industry will suffer – as it is today — and will not reach its full potential and market participation that it rightly should.

As a result, and given the reality of comprehensive federal regulation of the industry, the proper role of the industry’s representation in Washington, D.C. should be — indeed, must be – to clear away the obstacles and hurdles that threaten the progress and growth of the industry, to do the heavy lifting and speak out boldly and un-apologetically on behalf of industry members, so that they can focus on the private-sector activities that they do best, without fear of stifling regulation that negatively impacts production, product affordability, product placement, market share, financing, or other matters. This includes promoting and advancing policies, decisions, laws and regulations that benefit the industry and its consumers and seeing to it that once those decisions are made and enactments put in place, that they are carried out properly, to their full extent, on a timely basis. It means rolling back barriers and fostering opportunities that a creative, adaptive and entrepreneurial industry like manufactured housing can use to create jobs and prosperity while providing an essential commodity – affordable housing – for which there is an ever-growing need.

This is the mission that MHARR has been tasked with since its formation and the role that it carries out every day with increased intensity in the face of the current crisis. The function of MHARR, as a watchdog association for a regulated industry, is not to preach or sermonize to the industry about how it should be operating, building its homes, marketing its products, or otherwise constituting its business model. It is not to conduct countless meetings and seminars packaged and promoted as “doing something” to move the industry past its current crisis. It is not to “translate” the latest trends or put a “happy face” on discouraging news. MHARR’s job, rather, is to unapologetically defend and advance an industry and a product that deserve as much – for Americans who deserve a decent home of their own that they can afford.

Advancing these interests requires different approaches at different times. Where favorable results can best be achieved through cooperation andfor “compromise” with others, they should be the order of the day. But cooperation and compromise camiot become end objectives in themselves and an easy substitute for the harder rigors of advancing the industry’s interests through principled advocacy. “Go along to get along,” sacrificing the industry’s interests for the sake of good feelings, compromising the industry’s interests in exchange for nothing, “negotiating” within the industry to reach a lowest-common-denominator position, or simply giving away the store, are not a strategy. They are an excuse for inaction and more of the same and, ultimately, for failure. They are the methods that, as practiced by others, squander the superior resources available to them and have brought the industry to where it is today.

A simple example of this can be found in recent reports of another closed-door meeting between HUD regulators and a segment of the industry regarding aspects of the Department’s ongoing effort to unnecessarily expand production enforcement and coerce manufacturers to “voluntarily” accept costly and burdensome changes to production procedures. These changes will do nothing to benefit consumers but will add a great deal to the regulatory compliance costs ultimately passed to the mostly lower and moderateincome consumers of manufactured housing, who then cannot qualify for already scarce private financing – all at a time when the industry is already suffering because it cannot qualify purchasers for loans. So, the question is, why would part of the industry provide cover to HUD regulators, at a critical time like this, when they have been and continue to be pressed and thwarted by another segment of the industry (as shown by the recent MHCC vote denying consensus approval for the same HUD proposal)?

Unfortunately, there are countless similar examples where a segment of the industry has not only failed to stand firm and be counted, but has actually undermined the hard work and positive efforts of others. As bad as that has been for the industry in the past, the negative effects of such failures are magnified and compounded many times over by the crisis that the industry faces today. This also underscores the importance of – – and need for – the unapologetic leadership that MHARR provides in the nation’s capital, which warrants greater support from the industry’s grassroots, as 20 10 begins.

In MHARR’s view, the revitalization and recovery of the industry demands bold and effective leadership from its representation in Washington, D.C.

MHARR is a Washington D.C.-based national trade association representing the views and interests ofproducers of federally-regulated manufactured housing

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