As a follow-up to MHARR’s initial June 16, 2011 report, the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) has now released, in written form, a modification to its proposed federal fire sprinkler standard that was addressed verbally during the June 15, 2011 conference call meeting of the Technical Structure and Design Subcommittee of the Manufactured Housing Consensus Committee (MHCC) (see, copy attached). The modified proposal, however, as explained below, is a leap of faith – like asking a key question at a trial without knowing the answer – which assumes, contrary to the entire track record of the program, that HUD regulators will adopt the proposal as-is and maintain it as a “voluntary” standard. The evidence, though, already shows that neither is likely.
The modification makes two changes to the original MHI fire sprinkler proposal. First, it adds a statement that “fire sprinklers are not required by this Subpart.” Second, it deletes the portion of the original proposal stating that the federal standard would apply “when a state or local authority” requires sprinklers in “all detached single-family dwellings,” leaving the proposed standard applicable to situations “when a manufacturer installs a fire sprinkler system.” This format which differs only slightly from the language discussed by the Subcommittee, poses a major cost risk for the industry – including manufacturers, retailers and communities (faced with replacing or upgrading inadequate water systems) – and consumers, who could face additional costs of $6,000.00, or more (according to MHI estimates) per double-section home for a sprinkler system.
The first part of the modified MHI proposal, stating that Subpart C of the HUD standards addressing “Fire Safety” does not “require” sprinklers – although little more than a truism – an express statement of what is obvious from a review of the Subpart C standards, was referred to as a potential “policy problem” by HUD officials at the October 2010 MHCC meeting. Those officials, when asked, would not commit to leaving any such language in any final standard. But if this language were stripped out of any MHCC-approved sprinkler proposal by HUD during the rulemaking process, as appears likely from the Department’s own statements, leaving only the second part consisting of either reference or prescriptive criteria for sprinkler systems installed in HUD Code homes, it would introduce into the federal standards, for the first time, sprinkler criteria that would inevitably be exploited as a federal beachhead by well-financed and fully-committed sprinkler advocates.
MHI maintains that the second part of its proposal, as modified, is a “voluntary” standard. But for reasons that MHARR has previously documented in detail, it is simply not plausible that such a “voluntary” sprinkler standard, without advance iron-clad guarantees from HUD, would remain voluntary for long. The history of the sprinkler debate shows that the Secretary would come under immediate and intense pressure from sprinkler advocates to extend such a standard to all manufactured homes. Because HUD Code safety standards, by law, are premised on protecting against an “unreasonable risk” of death or injury, it is inconceivable that the Secretary would or could resist the extension of such a life-safety standard to all HUD Code homes. And HUD officials, in response to a direct question from MHARR at the March 2011 MHCC meeting, admitted as much, stating that it could not provide any assurance that such a standard would not ultimately be expanded to cover all HUD Code homes.
MHI, in an effort to refute this concern, claims that the HUD Code contains “other standards that are not required or mandated for every home.” This is a different argument, however, from the contention that a “voluntary” sprinkler standard would remain voluntary. But even if it were a relevant comparison, MHI points to no specific “voluntary” HUD safety standard, and MHARR‘s own review of the standards, to date, does not indicate any.
Thus, while MHI’s modified proposal is well-intended – being designed to protect some production in Western areas – the industry should not even be considering, let alone promoting, a federal sprinkler standard that the available evidence shows is unnecessary and would expose the entire industry to the risk of an extremely costly across-the-board standard when production remains near historic lows and consumers cannot obtain financing as it is.
Given all this and given the considerable success that the entire housing industry has had in opposing and blocking the 2009 International Residential Code sprinkler mandate, the industry should not be advancing even a “voluntary” sprinkler standard, unless it has advance iron-clad guarantees from HUD that the standard would remain strictly voluntary.
On a closely related matter, major personnel changes are in the works at the HUD manufactured housing program. Ms. Teresa Payne, who became HUD Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary with responsibility for the manufactured housing program in April 2010, will be leaving the Department as of July 31, 2011 to take a position in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which will be implementing and administering the Dodd-Frank law. In addition, Elizabeth Cocke, currently the “Deputy Administrator” of the manufactured housing program, will be leaving her post in mid-July and will be moving to the HUD Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R). Designated to assume Ms. Cocke’s position, on an acting basis, is Henry Czauski, who has been attending recent MHCC meetings. MHARR will pursue further information on these major impending changes, as it continues to simultaneously advance its four-front congressional initiative concerning various aspects of the federal manufactured housing program.
Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform
1331 Pennsylvania Ave N.W., Suite 508
Washington, D.C. 20004