Days before the start of the New York Housing Association’s 65th Annual Meeting, word was circulating in manufactured housing industry circles about challenges arising from controversial statements and positions taken by George Moorehouse, a NY Department of State Code Enforcement Official. To grasp the flavor of the issues that have stirred MH industry members and professionals in NY, Moorehouse allegedly said that ‘in ten years, there will be no more new manufactured housing placed in the state of New York.’
While this report is centered in NY, because HUD has been involved, a number of state association executives are concerned of potential ripple effects spilling into other states. So this New York controversy is being seen by some MH leaders as ‘ground zero’ for a challenge to the MH Industry that must be successfully addressed.
Close consideration of the issues will reveal that how the NY SAA handles this would also impact home owners, as the facts of this report will suggest.
A Google search of George Moorehouse reveals he was listed on the NY State Building Standards and Codes, as being one of those…”
Code Enforcement Officials
The following list contains the names of individuals who have successfully fulfilled the training requirements for Code Enforcement Officials pursuant to Title 19 NYCRR Part 1208 during calendar year 2014…
George Moorehouse, NY0003604.”
New York Housing Association Executive Director Nancy Geer spoke with BSC Director Ronald Piester, about two weeks ago. Piester, Moorehouse and Assistant Director for Regional Services, Brian S. Tollisen, P.E., appeared in person Friday morning to talk to industry members, face to face.
NY BSC Director Ronald Piester at podium, Brian Tollisen and George Moorehouse
are to his left, in this MHProNews photo from the New York Housing
Association’s annual meeting on 10.9.2015. Members credited the three for
coming and speaking personally with industry professionals.
Piester opened by stating that he wanted a frank and open discussion about the “controversy going on in the field.” He explained that the department’s staff had been “plagued” by “unprecedented staff reductions” over a period of “6 to 7 years.” Piester stated they “can’t seem to move back to add staff to our division,” adding that a major reorganization was underway.
New York Housing Association member Paul Mele
holds a MH foundation design diagram.
Foundations and The HUD Connection…
Cornell University’s legal site says that the HUD Code for Manufactured Housing defines an SAA as:
“State Administrative Agency (SAA) means an agency of a State which has been approved or conditionally approved to carry out the State plan for enforcement of the standards pursuant to section 623 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. 5422, and subpart G of this part.“
Among the points that Ron Piester made was to explain that they are seeking to act in accordance with the HUD Code. Indeed, the NY Codes members present indicated that their office spoke with Pam Danner at HUD, a HUD engineer and their SAA counterparts in PA.
Industry members told MHProNews that foundation systems accepted by NY’s prior SAA team leader, Tim King, were now being questioned or challenged by Moorehouse. Alternate foundations are permitted by the HUD Code, so long as certain steps are followed, including that an engineer “stamp” an approval on the alternate foundation plan.
King reportedly had a good working relationship with the Industry. That working relationship with the NY MH Industry eroded after King left his role at BCS due to health issues and as Moorehouse’s field activities lead to the current foundation controversy.
Piester stated his desire to improve relations with the MH Industry, manifest by his presence at the association’s annual event.
In the wake of King’s exit from the NY SAA, alternate foundation systems approved by engineers and that industry members said had 3 decades of failure-free service to home owners, were suddenly called into question by Moorehouse.
That naturally caused New York MH Community owners and MH Retailers to consider the high costs of having to potentially go back and change foundation systems, the impact on home owners and to ask, what’s next from their state’s SAA?
Joe Bushey of G&I Homes (seen in the two center column photos above)
was among those who questioned the guests from NYS BCS shift in policy since Tim
King’s departure from the agency. One industry member after another asked
pointed questions and explained problems with the apparent shift in SAA policy practices.
Geer points to Performance Code and MHProNews ‘introduces’ Bill Matchneer, prior HUD Code program Administrator to NY SAA team
During part of the discussion, Nancy Geer pointed out to the NYS BCS (SAA) team that the HUD Code isn’t a prescriptive code; rather, it’s a performance based code. That performance base was precisely to provide opportunities to capture cost savings while delivering quality to the home buying consumer.
Geer’s point about the HUD Code being performance based was made by a previous administrator for the HUD Code for manufactured housing. Since Piester and the SAA team members would periodically refer back to their desire to follow the HUD Code, Geer’s point was potent.
This MHProNews writer pointed Ron Piester to a video interview with Bill Matchneer, JD, the prior HUD Code Manufactured Housing program director. In that video interview, Matchneer makes a strong public statement on the quality and value of the MH product, precisely from the vantage point of the HUD MH program director. Equally important for the NY discussion is the fact that Matchneer likewise spoke about the performance basis for the code, thus underscoring the point that Nancy Geer made to the NY SAA team.
Further, as the HUD Code Program leader, it is clear that Matchneer’s office would have had periodic contact with Timothy G. King, C.P.C.A., as the then NY SAA point man.
MHProNews asked Piester about the impact on citizens, the affordable housing market and industry members if the SAA’s actions adversely raised installation costs on proven foundation systems; when there seems to be an absence of foundation failures.
Piester immediately assured attendees that they were strongly supportive of affordable housing.
Get a FOIA
When asked by a member for copies of consumer complaints, Piester said that technically a FOIA would have to be filed to get that; rapidly adding that transparency and solutions – as well as following HUD’s guidance – was their aim.
Some members opined after the meeting why they wanted those complaints. They observed that what a new person to field inspections might think was a foundation issue might be nothing more than a re-leveling issue; which is easier and less costly to address in MH than is the case with conventional housing.
To rephrase, this entire controversy may be much ado about nothing new, possibly caused by a new person – Moorehouse – misunderstanding of issues. Level concerns and foundation problems are not automatically one and the same thing. In an understaffed office, the problems could quickly escalate, as has been the case.
A step toward resolution?
Ron Piester offered and committed to doing a working group comprised of MH industry members, the NY SAA and HUD. Pressed by association members who have pending work issues revolving around this foundation system controversy, assurances were made that the working group would be rapidly formed and would meet within a month.
Nancy Geer, shown in the photo collage above at the podium in the bottom left photo, helped bring the session to a close, after the NY SAA team received a first-hand sense from industry members of the range of frustration, anger and concerns their agency’s field agent’s posture had created.
Each side attempted to offer an olive branch to the other, knowing they must, as Peltier said, find a way to resolve the concerns on a practical level. MHProNews plans to track and report on developments in this as yet unresolved controversy. ##
(Photo credits, MHProNews. Image credit – NYS Building Standards and Codes logo.)