Hindsight is twenty-twenty. Warren Buffett doesn’t need to convince me or gain my agreement with him on that point. On that and the value of history, Mr. Buffett and this Masthead writer would agree.
Buffett and we agree too on the value of research, reading, asking, listening, probing, and understanding.
For the record, people can disagree professionally, without disparagement.
We’ve said not one word against Clayton Homes’ products, nor against the vast majority of their people, nor against most of those in MHI’s membership, etc. In fact, professionals from those operations and 21st are among our sources. That should be obvious from the kinds of insights, quotes, etc. that we’ve produced over the last year or so.
We agree with the Urban Institute’s stated principle that evidence and the facts should guide research.
There must be good reasons why leaders at Clayton Homes, 21st, and MHI won’t engage us in a public, video-recorded discussion or debate forum. One of the reasons why they won’t do so was suggested in yesterday’s blockbuster Daily Business News report on the Urban Institute, linked below.
But another point to consider in why they won’t publicly discuss our concerns and allegations is this. Logically, if they were correct and we were honestly mistaken, they could prove it, right? Or logically, even if they know they were wrong, they could attempt to spin the truth, etc. But how do they argue against so many of their own facts, documents, track record, and their on-the-record statements, and quotes? Isn’t that a compelling reason for them to duck, dodge, distract, and delay, instead of engaging?
What They Said, Did, and Didn’t Do That Taught Me About the Realities of the Manufactured Housing Institute
Give MHI credit. Their mixers are pleasurable. You’re at some nice resort. The networking has value. All of that ‘social glue’ is arguably part of their way to keep people distracted from the sad reality that as a lobbying organization, MHI has failed to advance an agenda that helps the majority of the professionals in the industry.
We’re far from alone in believing that to be true. State associations have now quit MHI for exactly that reason.
Maybe you have to be an ex-smoker to learn how to passionately oppose cigarettes. FYI, that’s an analogy, I’m not a smoker. Or with the same proceeding disclaimer, maybe one must be or know a former drug addict to realize just how horrible addictions can be. As an ex-multiyear, MHI member, I’ve learned the hard, painful, and expensive lessons.
One need not look too far back on MHProNews and MHLivingNews to realize that we supported MHI on several, but not all, issues.
How Did We Come to Be Members of MHI?
Years ago, MHI members convinced me that if our organization – MHProNews/MHLivingNews/consulting, et al – wanted to be a force for positive change in the manufactured home industry, we simply had to become members of MHI. Those voices – however well-meaning they may have been – where they in hindsight mistaken? Or perhaps unwittingly, did those voices lead us into an unsought, unexpected, and undesired – dark grace?
A current MHI member company president told me at Louisville that what MHI has been doing for years ‘has made no sense.’ He reminded me that ‘Tony, you [MHProNews] are challenging people’s paradigms.’ He said what we know: some don’t get it. But others, like him, do get it.
Others are in between.
If that company president had a choice, I’m not sure he would be an MHI member. Why do I say that? Because he thanked me for all that we are doing to spotlight what is actually going on in our industry. As in the case of many companies, he too reports to others…
That MHI member is not alone, others have personally told me similarly. Clearly, there are MHI cheer leaders too.
With that backdrop, the truth is I had several industry voices telling me – literally from the day they met Dick Jennison – that they didn’t trust the man. I freely admit to arguing against their view, Jennison seemed like a fine gent to me. But they in time were proven right. I was mistaken. You may have heard the old saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” It was Jennison himself over time – by word, deed, and omission – that proved their points.
A different, high profile, MHI member president told me recently that he wished Jennison had never been hired.
But as noted, for some time – I liked Dick, mostly up to the point that:
Ø women then working in the MHI office made a point of contacting and asking me to help them with a ‘hostile workplace’ issue, and they pointed specifically at Dick.
Ø and up to the point when on camera, he began to argue for slow growth.
I was stunned at both of those bullets.
I think Tim Williams/21st would not deny in a court of law that I was stunned by Jennison’s on-camera statement, because I took it up with him personally not long after that occurred. What association president worth their salt – working in an industry where most were then struggling for sales – would argue for slow growth? Perhaps the most logical way to understand it, was covered in yesterday’s Daily Business News special report.
I liked Nathan Smith too, he’s an easy to like guy. To this day, Nathan is likeable! But how did it square with his electric personna of his that he didn’t lift a finger to even inquire about the allegations of those women in the MHI office, complaining about Dick Jennison?
In the #metoo era, in hindsight, doesn’t that looks bad?
Tim Williams, President & CEO of 21st Mortgage, Prior MHI Chairman
Tim Williams and I had several fine conversations over the course of many years. I quite liked the gent. I recall Jim Clayton telling me how smart Williams is. I to this day, I would honestly agree. Tim Williams/21st is a very smart man. Judging from the kind words he gave MHProNews to publish, he liked us too.
But how did it square with Buffett’s claimed support for integrity, that Williams defended Jennison and Gooch, who had sent out a message to MHI members that was pure spin, deceptive half-truths, and not the full truth? Why did he defend Jennison, when he arguably should have been removed his MHI president?
Or why would you reward Jennison with a raise and bonuses – a national association CEO – who year after year, failed to accomplish what the assocation said was their goal? Once more, perhaps the best way to understand that decision or those bonus/raise is covered in yesterday’s MHProNews special report.
Rick Robinson, SVP and General Counsel for MHI
Rick Robinson is a nice guy too. Rick is witty, clever, and a fine writer. But he was also apparently happy to look the other way when questionable things were happening at MHI. Perhaps you can chalk it up to doing his job as an attorney for his client?
These are just a sampling. These and other examples that could be cited took this writer from someone who was pro-MHI, to now, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’ vantage point about that same organization.
Tim Williams in San Antonio
I didn’t need extra sources to tell me that Tim Williams stated in a room with a few dozen MHI members in it, the following. That neither Williams/21st, nor Vanderbilt (VMF), turned over data that the GSEs wanted to make DTS happen in a more robust fashion. Having sources is arguably often better than relying on yourself. But I heard Tim say as much with my own ears, and I was watching the then MHI chair saying it when he was only a few yards away from where I sat in the same meeting room.
It was a stunning set of statements.
HUD and MHI
There came a point in time when I no longer needed sources to tell me that MHI was shadow boxing. MHI was posturing that they wanted to modify HUD’s over-regulation. As noted above, having other sources – which we do – is often better.
That said, I personally asked numerous top-level MHI people face-to-face in San Antonio a variation on the following question. Where they going to support the removal of Pam Danner from her role at HUD?
Not one person in leadership would answer that face-to-face question!
Lesli Gooch, MHI SVP
Lesli Gooch’s otherwise fine letter last summer about Regulatory Reform – re: those executive Presidential orders – missed what is arguably the key point. Gooch never mentioned removing Pam Danner at all. That statement of her’s is now public record.
How is that possible? These are intelligent people. I’ve never called them unintelligent.
So, they surely knew that logically, the head of HUD’s MH department had a lot of power, for good or ill. Not removing Danner could make everything else they claimed to be trying, useless.
That’s how shadow boxing works, isn’t it? All show, no go?
When the most award-winning independent retailer in MHI history told us on-the-record that he supported Danner’s re-assignment – and Doug Gorman considers Danner a personal friend – how could MHI turn a blind eye to that, and so many others who raised concerns with MHI about Danner?
It was after returning from San Antonio that MHI sent me an unsigned letter, with no names on it, saying I’d been removed for membership because ‘it came to our attention‘ that I was trade media. ‘We have no such category for membership.’ What? Don’t they claim to represent ‘all aspects of factory-built housing?’ Doesn’t MHI have (and had) members who publish, not just us? Hypocrisy?
It was pure farce. A cowardly fiction.
Because my last MHI meeting badge – which we’ve kept as evidence – clearly reflected that we are both media and provide other industry services.
What These Talented People Taught Me
Talent can be used, or misused.
Rephrasing the above. It was their own behavior, time after time, plus ongoing feedback from MHI members — including voices within the Clayton-21st circles – that began to compel me to rethink MHI.
Add to that MHI staff action, inaction, and years of failure that forced me one-step-at-a-time to realize what they in fact are doing to this great industry.
They don’t actually fight regulations, do they? How could they claim otherwise, when in the DOE rule they are on the record as having advocated for them?
They don’t fight the CFPB, when their own Government Relations Vice President said that it Would Not get past then President Barack Obama’s veto – if it ever made it that far. It never made it that far.
It was prominent MHI member Frank Rolfe who told me that his congressman told him that it was a waste of time to try and pass the Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act. Ouch.
We editorially disagree with Ishbel Dickens on rent control, and a number of other industry and communities’ issues.
But Dickens told me she offered MHI a compromise – to modify the MLO Rule that harmed everyone – if MHI/21st/VMF would drop their desire for the higher points and fees stance. Others in MHI later confirmed what Dickens said. Her email, is below.
No open minded, thinking professional can ignore so many things, without putting a head in the sand.
Remember, these are just a few examples, there is far, far more.
In my own defense, I was never MHI’s yes man. Tim Williams said as much. I thought them wrong on the DOE Rule, and we editorialized on that point. I thought them wrong on the MHI stance on the fire sprinkler issue, etc. We supported what we could, and asked politely about what seemed to make no sense.
MHI’s 990 claims they want member input, but apparently they don’t mean it?
Some Members Have No Choice…
I get it that many MHI members have no choice. They tell me that they are compelled by fear, and other forces to be MHI members.
As a long-time MHI guy warned me, “Tony, these guys have long knives.”
I heard that, we understand. But nothing changes until it is challenged. Besides, frankly, the more public the challenge, the safer you are likely to be, IMHO. Look at Andy Gallagher. He may have committed, in the eyes of some at MHI, a faux pas. But because it was public, Gallagher is still safe in his job.
But Gallagher and Ayotte made just the point that we did, only differently. Pam Danner must go. They were waiting for some magic green light to say what MHARR, Bob Crawford, Doug Gorman, MHProNews, and numerous others had said for some time.
After months of MHARR, MHProNews, some states and businesses pushing for the change, now Danner – thankfully! – is gone from the job over the HUD Code manufactured housing program administrator’s role that she had held.
But Danner is not gone because of MHI! Rather, Danner was removed in spite of months of foot dragging by MHI.
Isn’t that what the record reflects?
Are they going to seriously point to their silly resolution in Congress, rather than the obvious ask of directly calling for the removal of Danner – plus add those same concerns, as examples of why Danner needed to go?
Why has MHI so routinely been the last one to take the correct stance? Even their former chairman admitted that the assocation had made numerous past mistakes. MHI failure to get it right is why one of the states – see link above or below – dropped out of MHI, and they explained their reason for withdrawing.
It’s a sad, but necessary indictment of the truth about their record. Years of failure for the majority of MHI members, but those years of failure pays off for those big companies looking to consolidate the industry’s smaller companies at bargain basement prices.
That’s why the letter from AZ is so important. One of their points was along those very lines. They pointed to success by the RV industry battling regulations that MHI failed to accomplish.
Great point, isn’t it?
The End of the MHI Charade?
Ø MHI charade,
Ø or con job,
Ø or whatever allegation or terminology one might want to use to describe it,
is not over.
But the MHI mask is falling off for many.
No doubt, some big companies benefit from MHI. That’s why the organization still exists. The big boys are happy with it.
Pragmatically, we know some who feel that they must stay, because they have no choice. But doesn’t that arguably make MHI more of a protection racket, than a normal trade association?
But every single small-to-mid-sized member is arguably feeding the hand that bites their own.
MHI is firmly in the Buffett-Clayton outlined moat that uses non-profits and foundations as part of their moat-building process. Invest the time to hear Kevin Clayton say so in the video linked here, in his own words.
The MHI Berkshire Hathaway Challenge
In fairness, MHI only does what their masters allow them to do.
Let them publicly debate in Tunica, on a video recorded discussion they and we can video too.
Let them have a panel of their experts – whomever they want! We’ll bring a panel of industry pros, and our experts too.
Let their panel try to prove our panel wrong, on any of the claims or concerns voice here or elsewhere on this pro-industry trade media site.
Do you think they have the guts to do that? If they were in the correct, why wouldn’t they?
The MHI Mask
Their act of trying to mitigate regulations, when they routinely fail in that – that’s getting harder and harder for them to say with a straight face. Their clever MHI mask is falling off, slowly but steadily. Their track record is sad, isn’t it?
We editorially applaud MHAZ and their colleagues in Nevada who had the wisdom and the guts to quit MHI. Let me assure you, that wasn’t an easy choice for them to make. I don’t have to ask that, its understood for anyone who understands the tragedy that has been taking place in this industry.
As the Trump Administration slowly gains more control at HUD and elsewhere, expect MHI to lose credibility as a result. That doesn’t mean they won’t have short term connections that still periodically pay off in D.C., for what Buffett called their Moat.
Circling back to the opening headline.
Tim Williams. MHI President and CEO, Richard “Dick” Jennison. Rick Robinson, MHI Senior VP and General Counsel, SVP Lesli Gooch, and others – one-step-at-a-time – helped me to see what’s really going on.
There’s far more.
But let me draw towards wrapping up this analysis and commentary, with the following.
Like Frank Rolfe, it didn’t on its face make sense to me why MHI would so often not defend the industry from media missteps, nor celebrate good news when it came from someone besides themselves.
For years, as an MHI member, we promoted the good news of manufactured housing, in the most robust way in the industry’s history, on MHLivingNews.
Why didn’t MHI support those efforts?
We were members for years, why didn’t they routinely draw attention to the good news about manufactured housing we were promoting?
Even now, when we are clearly in different camps, why wouldn’t they call attention to important pro-industry news, like the two examples posted above?
Paraphrasing Rolfe’s parallel point, it made no sense…
*** …unless one realizes that MHI for many years has worked with Clayton, 21st etc. to keep industry sales low. *** Why? Arguably, by keeping sales low, that allowed Warren Buffet Moat to consolidate more of the manufactured housing – into the Berkshire/Clayton/21st et al “Moat.”
It’s long term.
It’s exactly in keeping with Mr. Buffett’s and Kevin Clayton’s own words.
We were never alone in being betrayed by MHI. That’s other stories, for another time. Because numerous others have been betrayed too. I’ve listened to the stories of some, and they are often heartbreaking.
I can picture the faces of some who had that stunned ‘deer in the headlights’ look, as they described their professional plights and tragedies to me.
At the time that some told me, some of that I didn’t understand in its full significance. Now, in 20-20 hindsight, I do.
Later, as the truth slowly dawned upon us here at MHProNews, after all those voices and examples and more added up, it became clear that harming independent professionals by the thousands didn’t matter to these people.
That in turn hurt millions of Americans, who may – if MHI had defended the industry every time the media or some researcher gets it wrong – have been living in a manufactured home happily for years.
Defining a Problem without Offering a Solution is Just Whining. So, What’s Next?
In no particular order of importance, the following should occur.
Given all that we now know, it is my sincere hope that for the sake of the industry, MHI be disbanded, as a hopelessly tarnished brand. That won’t happen overnight. They were given many chances to change course and reform. They declined that every time. So, given all of the above facts, evidence, concerns, failures, and allegations — how could that mess in Arlington, VA seriously be reformed?
It is my belief that MHI’s being disbanded may happen to them,
Ø through legal actions, started by aggrieved members, and perhaps non-members too,
Ø as part of anti-trust efforts, that they will likely be caught up in,
Ø unless MHI disbands themselves, voluntarily, before-hand.
As we noted in yesterday’s report, people are innocent until proven guilty. But an attorney we asked told us they see anti-trust action as a real possibility. As we’ve done throughout, we must call all of these matters allegations, because that is what the suits tell us we should say.
But you as readers have the ability to discern fact from fiction, with common sense, and by looking at the facts. Skimming these facts will never lead you to the correct conclusion. That’s Buffett’s biggest edge, he reads! He invests the time! Only for those who make a serious study, a half a day, a day, could do it. Start with the videos and links, above and below.
I don’t believe MHI can survive the string of alleged abuses long-term. So, the industry needs to prepare another option for the post production sector. Thankfully, for producers, there is already the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR).
But all others need their own voice too, as MHARR has long advocated.
Others, like the AZ community owners’ association, are hunting for their own representation in D.C.
These are de facto votes of no-confidence in MHI. Whatever modest role we may have played in exposing the MHI charade, we’re happy to have done, within the norms of remaining pro-manufactured housing industry.
Because we don’t believe the industry can achieve its great potential, until Berkshire Hathaway’s brands and their allies are at least put into check, and MHI is supplanted.
If any of the above is wrong, please. MHI, Clayton, 21st – show me where, and I’ll modify this post.
If any of this is wrong, then let Clayton-21st-MHI gather a panel, and let us gather a panel We’ll debate it publicly in a third-party moderated forum, and video the entire discussion, so that the entire industry can see it. There is not a day go by that we don’t pray for them, pray for the honest liberation of this great manufactured home industry, and pray for you too.
What more needs to be said today?
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L. A. “Tony” Kovach is an award winning manufactured housing industry veteran, and is the managing member of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC – the parent company to MHLivingNews.com, MHProNews.com and professional service provider to the factory-built housing industry.
Connect on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/latonykovach