The Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) released its monthly economic report. It will be recalled that the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) published their similar data about 2 weeks ago, and that MHARR previously raised concerns about the causes and trajectory of declines new HUD Code manufactured home shipments starting with production reports in last months of 2018.
Let’s begin with what the Arlington, VA based MHI said. MHI bills itself as representing “all segments of factory-built housing” – meaning production and post-production issues. Most of the key issues that face the industry today are arguably in the post-production realm. So, that is the lens we often scrutinize their performance through, because it is their own claim.
Here below is the meat of MHI’s March economic report.
7,493 New HUD Code Homes Shipped in January 
In January 2019, new manufactured home shipments decreased 13.3% to 7,493 homes as compared to the 8,646 homes shipped in January 2018. Total shipments for January 2019 were 1,509 homes more than the prior month of December. Compared with January 2018, the trend is mixed with shipments of single-section homes down by 28.4% and multi-section homes up by 5.4%. Total floors shipped in January 2019 decreased 7.7% to 11,607 compared to January 2018.
Of the 7,493 homes shipped in January, there were only 25 homes designated as FEMA units shipped which is significantly less than the 850 FEMA units in January 2018.
The seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR) of shipments was 88,461 in January, up 4.1% from the adjusted rate of 85,008 in December 2018. The SAAR corrects for normal seasonal variations and projects annual shipments based on the current monthly total.
In January, 134 plants representing 35 corporations reported production data which is an increase of one active plant and the same number of corporations compared to December 2018.
Note that nowhere does this report reflect any concern, analysis or solutions to the problem of shirking shipments during a well-publicized U.S. affordable housing crisis.
MHProNews waited a few days to see if MHI would before or after this economic report explain their plan to address the troubling data in their own report.
While there are hints of reasons why ‘future growth’ could be found in their new consumer research, they fail to explain why that research is hidden behind a member-only login. Why would a post-production trade group – which normally publishes for all the world to see research that is claimed at being positive – is instead hidden.
Isn’t that contradicted by MHI’s own data?
Furthermore, the research and results of the PBS and prior MHI Chairman Tim Williams’ own statement, along with other MHI published members statements, all point to a need to address the root causes of manufactured housing’s malaise.
Prior MHI Chairman Nathan Smith admitted on camera that the national association had often failed to be proactive. He pledged to members on camera that his goal was to change that dynamic. Now, years later, how did that pledge work out for the industry?
But what has been working out for Nathan and his peers is the consolidation of the industry into ever fewer hands. Coincidence?
Tim Williams PBS
Besides MHI itself, none of their more prominent surrogates offer any reasonable explanation or plan either.
Take the example of Amy Bliss – who is allegedly connected with part-time MHI surrogate George F. (F?) Allen’s call for a boycott. Bliss previously made a public claim which an attorney with antitrust insights said could constitute tying, which like a boycott, is another antitrust flag.
Bliss, the Executive Director the Wisconsin Housing Alliance (WHA), told Kurt Kelley’s MHR last month the following.
MHR Q) What’s the biggest challenge to acting as the leader of the Wisconsin Housing Alliance?
“For me, the blatant hypocrisy of Federal, State and local governments. They all talk about wanting affordable housing and workforce housing, but when it comes down to it, they exclude manufactured homes at every turn. They feel the only acceptable form of affordable housing should be apartments. It frustrates me that most of the grant funding always excludes land lease community residents and they are the people that often need the help the most.”
What her comments fail to mention is that the role of any post-production trade group, WHA’s or MHI, is precisely to address such concerns. What’s the goal of hand-wringing over ‘hypocrisy’ by public officials? Is the looking for an amen? Instead, why aren’t they routinely using the ‘enhanced preemption’ argument in public and with public officials? Why is MHI instead hiding it on their own website?
Bliss contradicts herself, as the next two Q&A’s reveal. She also signals what she – as a reportedly periodic receiver of selected MHI insider insights – may have been told what to expect. Keep in mind that the major companies all know their production levels soon after the end of each month. With the production of the Big 3 accounting for about 80 percent of all manufactured homes, MHI could easily know weeks before others what the data is going to look like before HUD Reports it.
With that factoid in mind, let’s look at what Bliss also.
MHR-Q) Can you tell us a few pressing issues facing manufactured housing in Wisconsin?
WHA’s Bliss-A) “The industry in Wisconsin is doing well. The most pressing issues I hear from my members is lack of installers and transporters, municipalities increasing fees or eliminating services for community owners and of course the number one issue is lack of financing. Another item of concern is older communities that have not been managed well. The biggest reason for community closures is because the municipality revokes the license to operate because the owner has let the community go into a state of disrepair. I hate to see Wisconsin lose sites and it is extremely sad for the tenants.”
Within Bliss’ answer above is already an implied string of contradictions to her claim that the “industry…is doing well.” The industry in her state and others are wildly underperforming. Her predecessor – Ross Kinzler – was so alarmed, that he created this graphic before he left the role to Bliss. The facts summarized below blows away Bliss’ ‘sunshine and roses’ claim that all is so well in the industry. It isn’t.
The next question further contradicts her claim that the ‘industry is doing well.’ This reply by Bliss to MHR is another stark alarm for manufactured housing industry professionals.
MHR- Q) What industry and association concerns wake you up at night?
Bliss-A) “I worry about another downturn in the industry. We lost a tremendous number of retailers and we had to live off our reserves for several years. That was not a fun time for anyone in the industry and I would hate to see that happen again. I am fully aware that the housing industry in general has cycles, but I hope it never goes that low again. Wisconsin lost a manufacturer that had been in business for over 50 years.”
Once more, this begs several follow up questions that MHR never asked, or at least, never published. For example:
Where is the reaction by Bliss or MHI to the document, quotes, and video linked below that constitute an ostensible ‘smoking gun’ of artificial market rigging, a restraint of trade that could be construed as a violation of federal law. Silence.
Where is the reaction by Bliss, or voices from Arlington and Knoxville, to claims by state association executives that they were strong-armed by 21st and Tim Williams? There has been off the record confirmation of those concerns, but no one is willing to speak out on the record.
Why not? In a phrase, fear for their job.
That fear is another potential Hobbs Act issues, see that linked report.
The Bottom Line?
Talk radio king Rush Limbaugh expressed his belief on the radio today that “…most limitations are self-imposed…”
That may be true for some as a factor in manufactured housing’s stunted performance. There are some voices that say there is significant upside for the industry. But MHI is largely silent on that potential. Why?
But in our much-needed part of the affordable housing industry, manufactured home professionals have time and again expressed fear of stepping out or speaking out. Those fears arguably fall into the definitions that can spark potential federal or state criminal, administrative, or civil actions. The reason for that fear is based upon passed actions that have become ever more widely known.
There are several reported and known investigations underway. But one of the ways that could be accelerated is by more people speaking out, not by more people being intimidated into silence.
The law and facts are debatably on the side of those who are beginning to coalesce in the post-production side, just as MHARR previously did on the production side. There will be more on these themes in the days ahead.
That is tonight’s “News Through the Lens of Manufactured Homes and Factory-Built Housing” © where “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (News, analysis, and commentary.)
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“The Illusion of Motion Versus Real-World Challenges” | Manufactured Housing Association Regulatory Reform
Motion – or, more accurately, activity – in and of itself, is not necessarily synonymous with, or equivalent to, realprogress, or, in fact, any progress at all.