Time has passed since I briefly spoke with JD Harper of the Arkansas Manufactured Housing Association (AMHA). We were at the Tunica Manufactured Housing Show and were walking in different directions in a public place. Some years earlier at a different industry event JD and I chatted a bit longer about what was then a new and soon to be unveiled video ads meant for YouTube. They turned out well.
As a testament to their quality, some other manufactured housing state associations made a deal with the AMHA and had them rebranded for their state.
AMHA’s videos were professional, high quality productions aimed at debunking certain industry myths and misconceptions. The goal is a good one. So, the notion made sense, given the wide level of misunderstanding and stigmatization that has impacted our industry for many years. The AMHA board approved the plan.
Even though the AMHA’s efforts have to their credit obtained far more video views than all of the productions posted on YouTube by the national Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI), Arkansas is one of those states where manufactured housing shipments have nevertheless suffered declines.
Those are the types of oddities that bear attention, given the great need for affordable housing in America.
Many in the industry today may not know that Arkansas used to have HUD Code manufactured homes built right there in their state.
At their management’s invitation, I personally visited the production center of an Arkansas HUD Code builder that was based in a smaller town. It had a modest looking facility, especially when compared to those bright, gleaming building centers that Clayton Homes is so proud to point to in their ultra-high quality videos. But that independent producer’s Arkansas-based HUD manufactured homes met the HUD Code manufactured housing standards every bit as much as Clayton, Skyline-Champion, Cavco — or any other HUD Code builder does.
There are several points to this true story, as those who read here with investment and the future in mind already may sense.
It may seem unrelated but what’s next is very much a part of our industry’s unusual history.
I was one of the few who objected to the premise of a journalist who published a book and produced for a time a series of reports that used his name, the Grissim Guides. Don’t get me wrong. Grissim was and remains an intelligent and interesting fellow. But rating builder’s homes, to my mind, in terms of quality in the manner that he did undercut the very premise of manufactured housing.
What makes a HUD Code manufactured home – be it the lowest cost or the most expensive one – so appealing is precisely that it is built to meet or exceed certain federally certified safety, durability, energy and other design criteria. It is independently inspected by third parties. Plus every manufacturer wants their homes to go out as defect free as possible because it is easier, faster, and lower cost to fix an error at the plant that to arrange for a service call.
There is genius to the concept of building federally certified homes producing affordable housing that have more consumer safeguards than millions of far more costly conventional built units offered. That’s an inspiring fact. Let’s note that when key legislation has come up for manufactured housing, such as the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act (MHIA) of 2000 or the Duty to Serve lending on manufactured housing by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac previsions of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act (HERA) of 2008, they routinely pass by widely bipartisan margins.
Quality, safe, durable, affordable housing is a nonpartisan or bipartisan issue. HUD – the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – alone spends over 40 billion annually on various housing related items. Yet the most proven and in several regards inspirational aspects of the affordable housing story in the U.S. are manufactured homes. Last I heard, the budget at HUD for the Office of Manufactured Housing Programs is a miniscule $12 million annually.
For those not into the math themselves, that’s less than a microscope 0.0003 percent of HUD’s budget. Bear in mind that local cities, counties and states may have their own housing program budgets too.
Yet with a mere 12 million in federal spending, there are about 22 million Americans living in pre-HUD Code mobile homes and post-HUD Code manufactured homes. Word has it that some 3 out of 4 of those units are manufactured housing, built to meet all of those federal specs. It is worth mentioning that tens of thousands of those pre-HUD Code mobile homes have either been upgraded by their owners, or were built to standards similar to what HUD originally adopted.
That brief thumbnail explains why ‘rating’ a plant undermines the notion of the HUD Code. You want the public to have confidence, because it is merited and because Congress, presidents like William Jefferson ‘Bill’ Clinton (D) or George W. Bush (R) did to sign those bills, and the federal government does.
Yet despite decades of third-party research, dual inspections at the plant, more inspects upon installation, and so on – the most proven form of affordable housing in America is still looked down upon?
That’s a story worthy of investigation.
These are practical facts matter to the household on lower wages, because regardless if their HUD Code manufactured home was built in a what looked like a large barn or in a gleaming multi-million dollar plant, they were third-party inspected and certified. It isn’t the name of the plant or how pretty the location was that matters to that couple, single or family that wants a roof they can call their own. The fact that it is built to last and will serve their needs, that is something that must be understood and ought to be celebrated.
Earlier this year, in the wake of the viral Seattle is Dying video, Manufactured Home Living News (MHLivingNews) did a report that made this simple point. Which would those residents and businesses in Seattle rather have? The homeless in tents, cardboard boxes, or disabled cars living next to their businesses or residences? Or would they rather have federally certified manufactured homes there instead?
We live in Lakeland, FL. There are neighborhoods in town where a manufactured home is nestled between conventional housing. According to research by both the federal government and Trulia, both types of housing can and do appreciate side-by-side.
That’s the story that the industry needs to tell and repeat often with gusto and vigor. We do so here on MHProNews in our reports to professionals, investors, public officials and advocates how scour our pages daily reading millions of page views monthly in content. They or you overlook Soheyla’s or my typos, because like you they find content worth reading and pondering. By the way, the New York Times, Fox News or others in mainstream media gets typos too, they just have fewer of them. Hey, give us a reasonable fraction of either of their budgets, and we’d have 5 to 10+ times the number of manufactured homes being produced than are currently being built today.
Industry growth with good, honest ethical business practices that leave happy homeowners in their wake is the purpose which sparked our launch over a decade ago. We just didn’t expect to discover the the problems of the industry were to a serious extent internal ones.
Harper and his board never asked me for my opinion going into their video project. When they finished, we showcased their videos on MHProNews as well as MHLivingNews. When we post a video or article, we don’t remove it (sometimes, the producer of a video takes it down from YouTube, we have no control over that occurring).
I could have told the AMHA that as nice, useful and well intended their goal was – their video would never achieve its goal. That’s no slam on their video. Look at Clayton Home’s anti-stigma video. Has it done better? Does the industry still face stigmas? Rephrased for clarity, the AMHA and all videos like it miss the point. They don’t get to the root issues that are holding manufactured housing under 100,000 new home shipments a year, where our industry has been stuck for over a decade.
Hold those thoughts, because it obviously applies well beyond Arkansas. Then, let’s pivot to what occurred in Texas just days ago.
The Texas Manufactured Housing Association (TMHA) did a pair of articles on their blog recently. Like JD Harper, the TMHA team are nice people. There are LOTS of nice people working in manufactured housing associations or businesses. We name names not to slam someone or necessarily even to elevate them, but rather to illustrate something that they happen to have spoken up about, did or failed to do. Let’s not question the sincerity at this time of any of those state association folks.
What thousands of professionals in our industry may or may not realize is this. No matter how good any given association professional happens to be, they must answer to their board and to those who make the dues payments that keeps an association going possible. If they want to keep their jobs, and most arguably do, then there are realities that an association professional must navigate if they want to stay in manufactured housing.
The only state associations that felt free enough to publicly criticize the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) were those that broke away from them to form the National Association of Manufactured Housing Community Owners (NAMHCO). Neal Haney said the following in part to explain that breakaway from MHI.
Some thing need to be repeated, this is one of them.
That could easily have applied to other state associations and their executives. That’s not a criticism. It a reality. So why have so few broken away, as Haney and company did?
Understanding that is what this report will shed some light on.
Carrots and Sticks
State executives are treated to a series of subtle carrots and sticks. If they play ball, they get to attend several meetings every year that MHI puts on. Those meetings are often held in nice getaway locales at nicer hotels that extended a discounted rate.
- The state association routinely pays for such travel – a perk.
- Manufactured home state associations that send a representative get a mini-vacation while issues MHI and their masters want discussed are the focus.
- There are nice people they know at those events. Food, beverages, fellowship, locals, nearby entertainment, these are all subtle carrots.
- Once a year or so, individuals are recognized by their peers. Hey, everyone likes an award or positive recognition.
The list could go on, but you get the point. There are carrots for those who tow the line. If you carry MHI’s water – which includes sending out MHI propaganda, oops, pardon me – emails and other messages or documents – that’s all part of a hidden score card. Do it well enough and you may be like Mark Bowersox and end up as MHI’s president-elect. Again, no slam, it is what it is.
But all of that dancing, prancing, and romancing doesn’t change this stark reality. The industry is underperforming. Not by a little, by a lot. Who says? Several of the publicly traded investor packets of manufactured housing producers, who are often MHI members.
FYI, this one looks like a prior version but has been updated. Download the image and open it to see the print at the original size. That heavy green arrow at the left is by Skyline Champion (SKY), who stress that the industry is not even at 50 percent of its historic norm. Worse still, it is only about 25 percent of its last high in 1998. Given that the industry sells a better product, with even tougher regulations now than then, why have shipments remained so low during an affordable housing crisis? Where is
MHI, Clayton, Cavco or Skyline-Champion’s explanation? Not the one that goes into their IR kits or conference call statements. The REAL explanation that can explain the facts that they themselves have pointed to but failed to address?
The TMHA touted the story of the MHI supported new class of homes deployed by one of their member builders and member sellers. What that TMHA article failed to mention is this.
- Does the TMHA support providing DTS financing on all manufactured homes?
- Or does the THMA just support lending on this new class of homes that MHI has backed that Clayton, Cavco and Skyline Champion support?
- TMHA answered some questions for MHProNews this past week. Do you think they answered that question on should DTS be extended to all HUD Code manufactured homes?
Read that report about Arp and his project shown further below very carefully. You’ll see.
Let’s stress, be it DJ Pendleton or the TMHA team, they face carrots and sticks. It was association executives that told us “how gold rules” in manufactured housing.
You better bet your bottom dollar that the Gold rules lesson applies to this arguably deceptive new class of homes ploy and the unconscionable re-directing of DTS lending to that plan. If a state association executive failed to carry MHI or their ‘big boy’ master’s water, they would likely be in the same spot as William ‘Bill’ Matchneer is in with respect to the law firm he served for several years. Read that report about Bill below, along with the others.
We would not have known about how gold rules absent the insider input from those state execs. Oh, that reminds me. Tim, Tom, Kevin, Lesli, and Mark – please make a note. We like to mix some things up, just to keep it interesting for you. We may put that spotlight on someone we like that may be honorable as well as someone we think that bears scrutiny. Please don’t pick on these state execs because we mentioned them today. In fact, we think that you should treat them the same as you did Amy, Jay, Sheila, Betty, Mark, Jim or ANY of the others we may periodically cite. Why not drop the sticks?
These subtle issues occur behind the curtain. Most would never think about them, much less know about them if they didn’t read about it right here. Let’s make the point already made. We’d not know either, unless informed sources told us about these problematic practices.
Manufactured housing is underperforming for a variety of reasons. We strive to be mindful of that fact.
Not every bad news story involves an MHI member scandal. But some do. Where is MHI’s enforcement of their code of professional conduct? See the reports that touch on that among the articles published in the week that was further below.
Some regulatory barriers exist entirely apart from MHI or their big boy bosses. But if they routinely insisted that HUD and the FHFA, among other federal agencies, do their jobs as federal laws demand, then those hurdles would melt away. Who says? Apply the logic of Bill Matchneer, again, see the report linked below.
Grissim in his day, or George Allen, or MHInsider, ManufacturedHomes, MHReview, or others can say whatever they want to say within the limits of the law and ethics. We respect and defend their First Amendment guaranteed rights.
But the fact that those still around today or state associations so readily and routinely spew the same pablum that MHI spreads should tell thoughtful readers all that they need to know. Want propaganda? Go get it from those who doll it out and get paid or otherwise rewarded to do so.
It isn’t even enough to periodically call out MHI by implication or by name, as ‘Frank and Dave’ or Allen occasionally have done. Because they aren’t really getting to the heart of the issues.
Warren Buffett led Berkshire Hathaway is sitting on a reported $128 billion dollar in ‘cash’ (investable reasonably liquid assets). A tiny fraction of a single billion – say several million annually – could be deployed to correct every challenge that the manufactured home industry faces today.
The industry faces legal hurdles, regulatory challenges, image, financing and capital access needs. Is there any one of those that given the good laws that are on the federal books couldn’t be effectively addressed by Buffett or his minions? Doesn’t that imply that at a minimum, Buffett and buddies want the industry to be underperforming at this time?
The Omaha-Knoxville-Arlington axis and their allies know how the game is played. They have and are writing the rules. They have the clout – just ask, MHI, they’ve said so – to accomplish in Washington what is needed. They could do so at the state or local level too.
But instead, we get treated by MHI to photo ops. How many added sales did your firm make since CEO-elect Lesli Gooch stood in front of the White House? How many more affordable manufactured homes were sold or financed since Gooch her the photograph of name tag photographed emailed out to the industry’s readers so you could see her name in the same photo as HUD Secretary Ben Carson talking at the White House?
What good are those photo ops to those that want to honorably sell more homes or develop more home sites?
Let me tell you, those photo ops are priceless. But they logically prove the opposite of what they pretend to prove.
When we see MHI praising Brian Montgomery at HUD, and see photos of MHI leaders with Montgomery, that should beg this simple question. When did MHI leaders last ask Montgomery face-to-face to enforce the federal law on manufactured housing’s enhanced preemption?
For those that may be new or don’t grasp that issue, here is what Mark Weiss, J.D., President and CEO of the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) had to say about it. It will be followed by a new on-the-record comment by Bill Matchneer.
If those state association executives had freedom to act, they arguably could use it differently than they do.
Approaching a decade ago, a MHEC member told Thayer Long in front of a few dozen of their peers, “Thayer, with all due respect, you aren’t getting the job done.” Within a short time, Long was gone at MHI.
But today, how it works at MHI is different. The proof is evident. Jennison and Gooch have demonstrably and credibly been repeatedly found accused of paltering to their own members. What did they get? Bonuses.
Gooch will get the CEO job, while Jennison retires. But think back, recall when Ross Kinzler raised alarms, not unlike we have since?
Truth, Lies, Spin and Paltering
Will Pinocchio’s nose get mercifully transplanted and take root on whose face next at MHI?
But that’s the problem. There is no nose that grows when someone lies. It takes more words to clear up a lie than it does to tell one. The truth is hiding in plain sight. The industry is underperforming. That doesn’t happen by accident. No one could possibly be so incompetent, could they? What that means is that there corruption afoot, and some are laying low while corrupt behavior is swamping MHVille.
State associations are among our sources at MHProNews. Don’t misunderstand a word said above, herein, or what follows. But do not expect at state executive to say or do anything in public today that the Omaha-Knoxville-Arlington axis and their allies would not approve. Wouldn’t that be like asking them to walk the plank into shark infested waters?
If association executives spoke out now as they once used to do, they might get Matchneered. That’s not Bill that said that, its me on behalf of our LLC’s publication.
There are carrots for those who play the game, there are sticks for those who don’t. They may let a few weeks slide by, but the stick or knife will come, won’t it?
News Tip from Insider a Berkshire Brand
We have another news tip from a 21st Mortgage Corp insider. We are checking on some details. Watch for that in the days ahead. There will be yet another, different but special report planned for tomorrow morning and evening. Watch for those too.
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Notice: that we’ll be on a reduced publishing schedule the next approximately 7 days as we work at a special project, but will still have still have a morning and nightly report on MHProNews.
With no further adieu, here are the headlines for the week that was 11.24.2019 to 12.1.2019.
What’s New on Manufactured Home Living News (MHLivingNews)
What’s New from Washington, D.C. from MHARR
What’s New on the Masthead Blog
What’s New on the Daily Business News on MHProNews
Here, on MHProNews we strive day by day to tell it like it is based upon our best understanding of facts, evidence and the money trail. There are times we put empathy cushions in, sometimes we skip the pleasantries. There are times we call BS, there are other times we carefully peel back the layers so that investors, attorneys and other professionals who scour these pages can figure out which way is up in MHVille.
For newcomers, we remind you. 5 years ago, we saw it differently. I might have debated me today had I encountered me back then, but I would have been wrong back then about some things. Here, we have the moxie and humility to say, we’ve learned from past mistakes, because we listened to others that were in key places that helped us understand those mistakes.
But here is what has always been consistent. We’ve never advocated for lying, cheating or deceiving customers or otherwise harming or taking advantage of them. We’ve always believed in the industry. Mickey Mantle was right. It is amazing what you don’t know about a game you’ve been playing all of your life. We hope and pray you and yours had the blessing of a good Thanksgiving. We may have uncovered one of the most corrupt schemes since Bernie Madoff’s ploy that was also hiding in plain sight.
I think Madoff would be impressed by brazen and slick Buffett and his buddies have been, don’t you? Maybe in a few years, we’ll see a video called Chasing Warren Buffett instead of one called Chasing Madoff?
That’s all for now. As an FYI, our sponsors don’t pick our topics, we pick our own. They are as surprised by what we post as the rest of our readers are.
Some jeer what we do to others, while others quietly cheer with their trusted comrades. But from the biggest firms to the mom or pop operations, plus those others in between, they are among the many who check in routinely because they know that what we publish matters and- like it or not – makes sense.
We thank those sponsors, clients, tip sources, and readers like you for making and keeping us the manufactured housing industry’s runaway biggest and most-read source for “Industry News, Tips, and Views Pros Can Use,” © where “We Provide, You Decide.” © (Weekly headline news recap, affordable housing, manufactured homes, lifestyle news, reports, fact-checks, analysis, and commentary. Third-party images or content are provided under fair use guidelines for media.)
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By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – for MHLivingNews.com.
Tony earned a journalism scholarship and earned numerous awards in history and in manufactured housing. For example, he earned the prestigious Lottinville Award in history from the University of Oklahoma, where he studied history and business management. He’s a managing member and co-founder of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, the parent company to MHProNews, and MHLivingNews.com. This article reflects the LLC’s and/or the writer’s position, and may or may not reflect the views of sponsors or supporters.
Connect on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/latonykovach
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