Preface. A new article by a competitor sheds a fascinating light on why the manufactured housing industry is underperforming during an affordable housing crisis. They say that the total number of new communities is ‘slow to rise.’
While that hardly plows new ground, there are several points that it makes directly and obliquely that merits this fact-check and analysis. The analysis will add to the corpus of the industry’s body of information on the underlying causes for the phenomena dogging and depressing the manufactured home industry, its independents, investors and others these issues touch.
These facts have significant impacts on current and potential manufactured home land-lease community (errantly a.k.a. as ‘mobile home park’) residents. In turn, that means that public officials, taxpayers, advocates and others encounter ripple effects.
- This report will first establish for our readers background information framing the significance and utility of their article in that fuller environment.
- MHProNews will then examine their interesting claims in macro and micro contexts.
- Then, we will do an analysis and conclude by providing some actionable lessons to be learned.
With that plan of engagement of their recent content, let’s dive in.
MHVillage’s MHInsider and the Manufactured Housing Institute
There is no conjecture necessary.
- MHInsider has proclaimed itself as allied with the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI).
- Beyond that certitude, they are MHI members.
- It’s worth noting that when MHI first published an infographic that estimated the number of manufactured home land-lease communities, the Arlington, VA-based trade group used a figure close to what MHVillage, the parent company to MHInsider, uses too.
- When MHVillage quietly raised their own claims on the number of manufactured home communities, so too did MHI, as if to mirror MHVillage.
- MHI’s community attributes system is likewise tied to the MHVillage family of brands. Once more, they clearly reflect direct tie-ins with each other on the MHICAS website. See the collage from that webpage below to illustrate the point.
Those are direct and anecdotal examples of the close relationship between MHI, MHVillage, MHInsider as well as Datacomp and JLT. The ties are there for all with eyes to see. This report will focus on the first three firms, not the later two.
Those dots are connected so that the following makes more sense.
Besides their statements and points made, MHInsider is a de facto rebirth of MHI’s long defunct Modern Homes magazine. There is no know example of MHInsider taking a position that stands in intentional contradiction with MHI’s. That is a relevant insight for those pondering its content.
Much like the dynamic within MHI itself, that creates certain tensions for MHInsider. They claim to be the leading source for industry news, and frequently have articles about MHI personalities and companies willing to pay for some visibility and clout within the MHI system.
MHInsider, logically to buttress their claims as a definitive source for information, uses puffed up figures that their own website’s public evidence clearly contradicts. For example, they claim to have some 39,000 circulation and subscribers to their digital and print magazines. If so, then how is it possible that an article like the one being fact-checked below only has 81 views in over 3 weeks, per their own website’s viewer evidence?
MHProNews has documented – using third-party data and comparisons – that this is the true largest and most-read manufactured home industry focused trade media. That’s perhaps due in part to our analysis and fact-checks of claims made about manufactured housing. Note that MHInsider’s outside attorney – and MHVillage-MHInsider’s own leadership – have been given an opportunity to respond to and debunk the claims and analysis. They are notably silent on such points. That’s not proof that they agree with our analysis, but it is noteworthy. What they are not silent about is that they don’t like being fact-checked.
The mythology employed on MHProNews and MHLivingNews stand in stark contrast with thinly veiled propaganda operations. Not unlike MHI, MHInsider makes bold claims that don’t pass the smell test. This isn’t merely inside baseball, it debatably has far broader legal and other implications for industry professionals, investors, public officials and several other groups impacted by affordable housing trends. These examples will make the point of that assertion.
We have fewer email subscribers than they claim, but demonstrably far more readership than MHInsider, per their own viewer data. The visual evidence of their poor reception by manufactured home (MH) industry professionals also speaks volumes.
These points are not insignificant, because deliberately and dishonestly inflated claims are potentially the predicate for claims of false advertising, deceptive trade practices or other legal issues.
But the thrust of the above are a foundation that aims to use more evidence and reason to make points which will be the primary focus of this report.
An unintended consequence for MHInsider is that the comments made there can readily be compared and contrasted with made elsewhere others by MHI staffer, elected leaders or the “insiders.” MHI has the same challenge, as they make claims that may not stand up to close scrutiny by those who grasp the meaning of the claims. Such gaslighting, paltering or disinformation efforts purportedly seek to influence and dominate the industry’s dwindling numbers of independents through a variety of means.
That’s relevant to businesses, investors, affordable housing shoppers, residents and others who may or may not be members of the Arlington, VA based organization that is dominated by Berkshire Hathaway owned and allied brands.
HUD, CFPB, FTC, DOJ, HUD, FHFA, SEC, …
A variety of alphabet agencies and federal elected officials have formally or quietly singled out several Berkshire brands for investigations into allegations of discriminatory and predatory business practices. Clayton Homes, 21st Mortgage (21st), Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance (VMF) are but three examples.
Videos and reports like those linked above, below, and following the byline exemplify a variety of federal, state or other legal probes. Lawmakers in the House and Senate have called for investigations.
MHI Related Facts – Seminars
Off and on for several years, MHI has had seminars that include the topic of developing with manufactured housing.
Some of those developments could be for land-lease communities, which are commonly but errantly dubbed ‘mobile home parks.’ As a segue, that’s errant terminology because as resident leader Tim Sheahan and others have said, the homes are better described as immobile homes today. They are routinely not moved once delivered to the place they are installed for residential use. A common claim is that some 80 percent of manufactured homes are not moved again once delivered to their original residential homesite. It is errant too because since June 15, 1976 there have been HUD Code regulated manufactured homes built, but U.S. mobile home production halted before that date. While there are communities that were built that use the name ‘mobile home park,’ they often date back to the 1950s or 1970s, when that terminology was appropriate.
Segue aside, moving on.
Other developments using manufactured housing that are or have been occurring since 2000 are for the purpose of fee simple conveyance of land/home packages.
Still others could be a hybrid that is designed initially as rental property but could later be transformed into resident owned units. A possible example is UMH’s Memphis Blues project.
Such MHI seminars – often in conjunction with their National Communities Council (NCC) serve several useful purposes for MHI. In no particular order of importance:
- They get fees from attendees, so they are a revenue generator for MHI, as their own IRS Form 990 indicates.
- The seminars are useful to certain MHI member firms, including, but not limited to, MHVillage, Datacomp and JLT.
- Such seminars seem to support MHI’s stated mission. Rephrased, it is useful window dressing to protect and buttress their nonprofit status.
While there’s more, that’s sufficient to make these next points.
Given the tremendous amount of new housing developing and redevelopment occurring in the U.S., MHI is clearly falling short in its impact in this arena. Evidence for that is the MHI or Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) shipment reports.
But further evidence is found from MHInsider. That’s a key reason why this analysis and fact check is being done.
Unpacking This Specific MHInsider News and Views
This specific article that is being fact-checked first appeared in the print edition of their magazine in September and October 2019 issue. Keep in mind that a year before, as the collage by MHI reflects, the Arlington based trade group was claiming “momentum” as they touted their launch of a ‘new class of manufactured homes’ which first MHProNews, some voices within MHI member companies and MHARR all questioned and/or condemned.
Indeed, a year later, we now know that the industry is in a year-over-year downturn that even MHI has admitted in their twisted logic, reflected above. See that related report below.
There is no accurate way to measure how many read the print version of this report, which has some minor distinctions from the version published on MHInsider’s blog. To dot the i noted above, what is known is that MHInsider magazines are not picked up in great numbers at trade shows. That suggests much concerning their trade publication that claims to be so important to industry professionals.
This photo is from a different event
than the prior one shown above.
In unpacking the blog version of their article, for the purpose of this analysis, let’s accept the data at face value, noting that MHVillage has its own problems with statistical claims. The reality is that other than MHI members Frank and Dave, no one else is known to be making a serious effort to track the count of communities, much less new developments.
Among the reasons that this matters is that:
- producers of manufactured homes, suppliers as well as investors and others make decisions based in part upon trends.
- MHInsider claims to be a source for trends, indeed, that’s the claim of these two interconnected articles.
- 2 years previously, MHI’s president said 500,000 new manufactured homes could be achieved in a statement to industry professionals at the Louisville Show. That comment was video recorded. 4 years later, MHI-tied MHInsider says that 100,000 will be exceed only after the number of communities are increased?
- As resident community leaders Robert Van Cleef directly and prior NMHOA President Tim Sheahan obliquely have noted, supply of new communities impacts the ability of MH land-lease community operators to sharply raise site fees. If significantly more new communities were coming online, the marketplace would be limiting what some activists have dubbed as predatory behavior.
- The push for state and/or national rent control is fueled by purportedly predatory behavior.
- As a mini-summary to this point, these trends arguably benefit consolidators while harming the interests of independents.
- As a critique, the problems that keep manufactured home communities from being developed are interconnected with MHI and their ‘big boy’ allies failure to robustly pursue debunking of industry misinformation as well as by the failure to push for a proper implementation of good existing laws that could change this dynamic promptly.
Against that backdrop, both the print and blog versions of this report cover similar claims. What follows is the blog version.
“The Precious Few
Somewhere very near 315 new manufactured home communities have been constructed in the U.S. since 2002. There were more than 2,600 such communities built during the previous 15 years, including 395 in 1986-87 alone.
The current trend, considering 2005-2014 alone, makes sense given the conditions. We all remember the dramatic job losses, the housing collapse, and the ensuing credit crisis. There was a massive backlog of undervalued, vacant homes on the market, especially in locales like Florida, Arizona, and Michigan. Those three hard-hit states are among some of the largest manufactured home markets in the country.
But when we consider the years prior to and following that loathsome time, what should we make of a mere 60 new communities built nationally during those seven years?”
Thumbnail Analysis of Above
What’s missing from this is as important as what’s included. Communities are also being closed for redevelopment. That is ignored by MHInsider’s article, but not by MHProNews.
That factor makes the scenario bleaker than they paint.
Further, likely unintentionally, it lays bare the false claim that MHI has been successfully promoting the industry. If so, then why are shipments in a year over year decline? Further, why has third-party Zillow reporting that interest from housing shoppers in manufactured homes declined during the two year period we reported on linked below?
Put differently, MHI and MHInsider are proving the validity of concerns that MHProNews has been reporting and raising concerns about for several years. Thanks, MHInsider, for demonstrating – intentionally or not – some of several serious claims and concerns that we’ve been making for some time.
Those Nettlesome Facts and Reason…
The problem any gaslighting operators have that plan to operate long term is that sooner or later, facts bump up against claims. The longer disingenuous or deceptive claims are made, the greater the odds of a purported deception being revealed.
Back to MHInsider’s Blog Narrative…
“Will New Communities Become a Trend? Is There Land? Are Planners Ready?
If the manufactured housing industry is able to support less than 2,000 new home sites per year for new communities, the U.S. housing market will continue to strain to keep up with rising demand.
Manufactured home production went from better than 146,000 per year in 2005 to less than 50,000 in 2009. Those were hard years. However, the economy is back and new homes are needed.”
- Sorry MHInsider author Patrick Revere, but the above is a hot mess. Where did the claim arise that the industry is able to support only 2,000 new home sites per year? Data provided by publicly traded firms that are also MHI members contradict that notion.
- Next, once more, in however convoluted a fashion one may wish to describe it, MHInsider finds itself contradicting their own and MHI’s prior claims. How can the industry be poised for growth in one article, and be severely constrained in another?
- Again, MHInsider is indirectly making the case that MHProNews has been making for some time. Namely, that they and MHI are self-contradictory, and logically undermine boastful claims that MHI has made.
Part 3 of MHInsider’s Blog Article
It isn’t our point to mock MHInsider or Revere. But within a few lines of each other, they contradict themselves, not unlike what MHI did with their recent shipment report or other twisted claims published by the Arlington, VA based trade group. Perhaps it is difficult for them to avoid, given the number of misleading claims made vs. the troubling facts?
Here’s the next section of their post.
“Amid the Housing Affordability Crisis, New MH Communities Are in Demand
Production of manufactured homes may be able to rise well beyond that 100,000 unit benchmark again only when the development of manufactured home communities rebounds. And for that to happen, the industry needs some favorable de-regulation, local planning officials and inspectors who will view factory-built dwellings as the only real answer to the affordability crisis, and the re-emergence of chattel lending that provides a loan on a home without land.
In the meantime, a few owners and operators have found attractive land and financing, and are making a go at some beautiful, new manufactured home communities. From Florida to Michigan and Texas to Montana, the section below provides five prime examples of the latest among the much-needed new manufactured home communities coming to the market.
Mark Calabria, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, touched on the availability of housing during a talk at the Innovative Housing Showcase in Washington, D.C. this summer.
“The average age of a house today is 35 years, which is the highest it’s been in over a century,” Calabria said. “We have single-family starting about 15% less than they used to be. And so the bottom line is housing supply is not keeping up with demand in this country.””
The case can be made that those two paragraphs about Dr. Calabria are classic paltering. They can be accurately quoting Calabria, which seems to an under-informed person to buttress their claim. But in fact, what Calabria’s statement points to is what MHProNews has said for over a decade. Namely, that the industry is underperforming. Aging housing stock, too few single family homes being built, all point to those notions.
In quoting Calabria, MHInsider has revealed that they pick and chose items that when carefully examined are problematic at best, or are misleading in ways that can have significant impacts.
While the First Amendment protects their right to be wrong, the First Amendment doesn’t protect the right of individuals or organizations to deliberately deceive people in a way that may unethically or illegally deprive or diminish the property, value and other rights of businesses.
MHProNews has asserted that industry underperformance benefits a few MHI insider operations to the detriment of most independents.
Paltering, the SEC and Other Agencies
Evidence and pattens of behavior mount as time progresses in business or in criminal enterprises.
Just as law enforcement may monitor a criminal organization for some time in order to catch more than street level crimes, something similar can occur in monitoring business(es) or organization(s) that may be engaging in illicit and or illegal practices.
As has been previously noted, a well-placed source told MHProNews that MHInsider issues – noting that they publish far more copies of their magazines than are picked up at trade events – are used by MHI member companies for specific outreaches to current or potential investors. That has potential SEC concerns.
That’s also an allegation that neither MHI, MHVillage/MHInsider or their respective outside attorneys have not denied.
Following a request for comments or reactions to prior fact checks and analysis, an attorney for MHInsider subsequently contacted MHProNews. They completely ignored the allegations. They focused instead on a technical point that in no way diminished the validity of our previous reporting and analysis.
That attorney and his clients – given a chance to respond to our follow up responses, after a week, there is nothing from them.
Over time, MHI has inside and outside counsel, obviously connected and less obvious individuals reach out with a variety of written threats. In some cases, over a year has passed. Nothing.
That’s mentioned for several reasons. In no specific order of importance:
– the threats from attorneys or others are arguably a kind of “over the target” reactions to our reports and analysis. MHI and their surrogates do not want to be fact-checked. Too bad. The law makes specific provisions for that which have been upheld by various courts.
– given repeated opportunities to respond directly to or disprove minor or major allegations, MHI, Clayton Homes, 21st, VMF, MHVillage, MHInsider, blogger George Allen or others who are involved routinely stay silent.
– Invited to discuss or debate these issues with a moderator in public and on video, they’ve repeatedly declined. Those offers go back to the period when this trade publication’s parent company was still an MHI member.
– at a prior Louisville Manufactured Housing Trade Show, when industry members were provided questions to ask now outgoing MHI President and CEO Richard ‘Dick’ Jennison. Rather than face those questions, Jennison abruptly cancelled.
But ironically, former MHI Chairman and Berkshire brand leader Tim Williams said there is a good argument to be made to debunk every incorrect piece of information. Why doesn’t MHI do so? Why don’t MHI’s amen corner do so?
Prominent MHI member Frank Rolfe has likewise ripped the association and its prior chairman.
Ironically, in pointing fingers at Nathan Smith for the harm he caused manufactured home communities, does Rolfe has three metaphorically pointing back at himself?
Such are the disconnects between what MHI does, what is says, vs what specific key members have done vs said.
Which may shed light on the comments by Marty Lavin.
The failure to perform is specifically noted by a group that broke with MHI.
That failure may explain former MHARR President and CEO Danny Ghorbani’s comments.
If MHI and allies like MHInsider truly wanted to promote the industry, numerous different positions would be taken.
This is more than just policy differences. It’s demonstrably deceptive trade practices that the case can be made that they are in some form or fashion seeking to undermine manufactured housing and investments in this sector.
So while free speech is protected, or even stupid or offensive speech is protected, there is no protection for deceptive speech that aims to defraud people of their rights, some part of their wealth, etc.
Knowingly deceptive information was specifically targeted by the SEC in recent settlements with VW and BMW.
Deceptive information could also be the subject of other federal or state alphabet organizations too.
Closing Facts, Summaries and Conclusion
There is an apparent effort to control and influence the narrative in manufactured housing professional media. Similarly, there are efforts to do the same with the general public.
MHI has a multi-million dollar budget and a staff that could allow for routine media engagement that would do what their own prior chairman said was a good approach.
Clayton Homes, 21st Mortgage Corp, and Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance (VMF) have their own marketing budgets. As MHProNews reported, they’ve actually muddied the waters with their own ads that problematic conflates terminology of manufactured homes and mobile homes.
Furthermore, Berkshire Hathaway owns those brands. Take Kevin Clayton at his word when he says that Buffett has told him that they have plenty of money for whatever they want. Which begs the question, why do they posture with fig leaves like the modestly watched video below to debunk stigma while using their own ads to fuel confusion and stigma?
Why doesn’t Berkshire use their BH Media Group to do an article a week each, or an article a month each to debunk the errant notions about manufactured homes? Why instead are they often as guilty as some others in undermining a proper understanding of manufactured housing?
All roads in MHVille do not lead through Omaha or Knoxville. But they routinely intersect with those hubs as well as with the Arlington, VA based trade group that Berkshire purportedly dominates through board, financing and dues.
It is impossible to reconcile the fact that manufactured housing is performing at a lower level today than it was in 2003 when Buffett pulled the trigger on the acquisition of Oakwood, Clayton and their affiliated lenders.
That logically leaves the troubling truth that Buffett and the Berkshire brands – arguably in alliance with some other key MHI brands – are working from within the industry to undermine it so that consolidation is occurring.
What would be the rationale for that pattern of behavior? The case can be made that they powers that be in MHVille wanted to get and keep the industry underperforming so that they could acquire at a discount or force out of business literally thousands of competitors in retail, communities, production and finance, to name the more obvious points. That in turn undermined the interests of community residents, prospective affordable housing seekers. That in turn inexorably impacts taxpayers and public services.
Some bottom lines are this. MHInsider and other bloggers that work in lose or close connection with MHI are striving to create an echo chamber that rarely if ever criticizes MHI. Yet, MHI’s own members – past or present – have done so. Some of this can only be grasped through the prism of the principle of separating wheat from the chaff.
Several investigations are known to be underway, but frankly, more should be. In order to warn investors and others impacted, there should be some level of announcement by public officials that these investigations are underway.
In a time when state attorneys general are probing tech giants for allegations of possibly problematic practices that include market manipulation, monopolization and antitrust violations, a similar type of announced probe of manufactured housing, giants connected with MHI should be undertaken and announced.
Finally, thoughtful independents, residents and others of good will should support such probes because of the apparent harm it causes to untold thousands of professionals and investors, plus tens of millions of current and potential manufactured home owners.
That’s a wrap on today’s initial installment of the manufactured housing trade media’s TRUE #1 source for “Industry News, Tips, and Views Pros Can Use,” © where “We Provide, You Decide.” © (News, fact-checks, analysis, and commentary.)
Submitted by Soheyla Kovach for MHProNews.com.Soheyla is a co-founder and managing member of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com. Connect with us on LinkedIn here and here.
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