“Campaign for Accountability (“CfA”) seeks records from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) regarding consumer complaints related to Clayton Homes,” said Daniel Stevens Executive Director of CfA.
These are the first words in his letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Stevens’ complete letter – linked here as a download – was included in a news release that identifies his Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the CFPB.
The CfA letter was in response to distinct but related prior reports and demands regarding charges of racism, steering, and predatory lending lodged by the Seattle Times/Buzz Feed, plus a group of Democratic Congressmen.
The Democratic legislators demanded that the same racially charged claims be investigated by CFPB and the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“I was appalled by some of the findings…,” said Maxine Waters (D-CA). “There is no place for these kinds of sleazy and deceptive practices. I was further taken aback by Mr. Buffett’s defense of Clayton’s lending practices given the concerns that were raised by the articles earlier last year.”
Her comments came as part of a letter included in CfA’s FOIA request to the CFPB.
The accusations stem from Mike Baker and Daniel Wagner in an article they had published in the Seattle Times, titled “Minorities exploited by Warren Buffett’s mobile-home [sic] empire.”
After the Seattle Times/Buzz Feed news article was published, the following members of Congress:
requested that the CFPB and the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigate, and take the action necessary.
“Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN), Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), and Michael Capuano (D-MA) are calling for a joint Department of Justice (DOJ) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) investigation in response to the Seattle Times and Buzzfeed News’ investigative series concerning allegations of discriminatory lending and collection practices by Warren Buffett-led Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries Clayton Homes, Vanderbilt Mortgage, and 21st Mortgage,” opens the letter from those lawmakers to CFPB Director Richard Cordray, and then Attorney General, Loretta Lynch.
Effort to Defend the MH Industry…
When the initial Seattle Times/Buzz Feed reporting occurred, MHLivingNews reached out to several industry professionals, all of whom said they had no personal experience of racist behavior by
- Clayton Homes,
- their in-house ‘captive’ lender, Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance (VMF),
- or 21st Mortgage Corp, a Berkshire Hathaway lender that serves independent retailers and communities.
MHLivingNews’ report – linked here – uncovered no such accusations by any of the professionals then asked against those Berkshire Hathaway units.
Later, the Daily Business News (DBN) reported on the second piece of this CfA related story; the Democratic lawmakers who have asked the Department of Justice and the CFPB to investigate the allegations made by the left-of-center Seattle Times/Buzz Feed news report. That DBN report is linked here.
Concerns by CfA over Clayton’s Expansion into Site Built Housing
A noted reason for the CfA to follow-up with the issue is Clayton Homes relatively recent move into selling modifiable, site-built homes, which are expected to sell for less than $250,000, per MENAFN.
CfA Executive Director Daniel Stevens said, “Clayton Homes appears to have been preying on some of our most vulnerable citizens. As the company expands its footprint to reach more Americans, it is imperative to know whether the government found any wrongdoing and, if so, what actions were taken.”
What Industry Professionals Had To Say Previously
When the Seattle Times article was first published, MHLivingNews reached out to MH industry professionals who have worked with Clayton Homes, Vanderbilt, and 21st, to get their take on the accusations.
“…The Seattle Times account simply follows the long-time line of denigrating “trailers,” all in the name of selling more papers and creating notoriety. The fact that the story can be directed to ensnare Warren Buffett, billionaire investor, just adds to the article’s appeal to the public; his involvement with the industry posed as a negative catch point,” said Marty Lavin, JD – a manufactured housing lending expert.
“I am a Hispanic retailer, with a large Hispanic customer base.” said Gus Rodriguez, owner of Tejas Homes in Conroe, Texas. “I would not tolerate any predatory lending practice with any of our customers. Our relationship with 21st Mortgage and the customers they approve for financing is based on credit worthiness and their ability to pay.”
That was then.
MHProNews will reach out again to industry professionals, following this report, to see what they may think today.
Worthy of Investigation, or Selective Reporting?
On the one hand is Brad Lovin, of North Carolina Manufactured Housing Association (NCMHA) general admonition, who says that “Publishing hand-picked information can be worse for the impression it makes on manufactured homes and our industry than stating entirely false information.”
On the other hand are concerns that Steven’s CfA, Democratic lawmakers and others are advancing. Would they be pushing this issue, if they didn’t believe there was evidence to support their contentions? Time will tell what the CFPB’s reports will reveal.
But how will potential revelations impact firms beyond Clayton, VMF and 21st? How will those concerns, if found to have validity, impact MHI members?
Not Just Smoke? Fines Against Buffett’s Brands, and Refunds
According to Yahoo! Finance, Buffett said that over the course of two years, regulators from both the federal government and 25 different states have examined Clayton Homes mortgages over 65 times.
The results of those reviews were $38,200 in fines, and $704,768 in refunds made by Buffett’s brands. No further information has been found on the subject of fines and refunds at this time.
Forbes on the Clayton/Buffett Lending Controversy
Pro-business Forbes reported last year that “Last month, the Maryville, Tennessee-based company “categorically and adamantly” denied discriminating against borrowers, and defended the practices of two lending arms, Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance Inc and 21st Mortgage Corp.”
The same report noted that Buffett made “no apologies whatsoever” about Clayton’s “exemplary” lending.
Post-Charlottesville…Are They Listening?
In the wake of the emotionally-charged, post-Charlottesville America, MHProNews reached out to top executives at Clayton, Vanderbilt, and a Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) Executive Committee member – individuals who have replied to our previous media inquiries.
Those professionals were provided this linked report.
Almost a day later, no denial, and no condemnation of racism has been made. An update will be planned if and when they respond to the allegations.
Given that days have passed since the CfA published their FOIA request, is it possible that Clayton, VMF and MHI are not yet ready to reply to such inquiries?
Are they tone-deaf to what’s going on in the nation? Or how this could hurt not only their firm – but also MHI, and by extension – MHI members and the broader industry at large? Does the industry need this kind of news?
“Tim [Sheahan] and I [Isbhel Dickens] have met with the [National Manufactured Home Owners of America – NMHOA] Board Chair and the in-house counsel for MHI and offered to try to negotiate acceptable compromise legislation regarding…[Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing]. However, to no avail,” Dickens, JD, told MHProNews in January, 2016.
Dickens’ added, “It is unfortunate that abuse by a few has negatively impacted some good lenders – see this Seattle Times article:
Maybe when you [MHProNews/MHLivingNews] highlight these types of abuse and shed some light on the seamier side of the industry then we’ll be better able to have the balanced conversation you anticipate.”
MHProNews will reach out once more to the activist groups, one of which is allegedly – per sources connected with those groups – planning a protest of the MHI annual meeting in Orlando.
Given the CfA FOIA request, and the post-Charlottesville atmosphere, will such a protest include charges of racism?
One of several Daily Business News updates on the 4th attempt by MHI at passage of Preserving Access is linked here.
Note that it was Preserving Access which allegedly brought out the long knives of anti-MH activists to oppose MHI’s bill in the first place. Will history repeat itself? This time, will the racism angle take a more prominent role?
The Paradoxical, Contradictory Signals from Buffett/Berkshire Hathaway Dominated MHI
Each of the lawmakers who requested the investigation into Clayton Homes, Vanderbilt, and 21st, are progressive, left-of-center Democrats.
The complex nature of the Democrats attacking Buffett – who owns Berkshire Hathaway, and his manufactured housing units, which dominate MHI – has lead industry professionals to ask, ‘what’s going on?’
Buffett politically holds a similar point of view as those fellow Democrats investigating him.
Buffett’s support of Secretary Hillary Clinton makes him look eye-to-eye with those pushing to investigate his business practices.
The contradictory, paradoxical support of Buffett for legislation like Dodd-Frank, which are harming the manufactured housing industry, and MHI Chairman and 21st Mortgage CEO Tim Williams’ calling out the progressive agenda has sparked serious concerns regarding the sincerity of MHI’s efforts to modify Dodd-Frank regulations.
“As the [Seattle Times/Buzz Feed News] investigation makes clear, Clayton is the nation’s largest manufactured housing company and has a “near monopolistic” grip on lending to minority borrowers seeking financing for manufactured housing reaching nearly 72% of African-American borrowers, 56% of Latino borrowers, and 53% of Native American borrowers. Given Clayton’s uniquely broad control of the manufacture, sale, and financing of manufactured homes, it is imperative that their business practices comply with federal law in order to ensure affordable housing for low-and-moderate income buyers. Surely, if news outlets can launch an investigation into potential violations of federal fair lending and consumer protection laws, agencies charged with protecting the nation’s consumers should be able to investigate these allegations, and, to pursue appropriate enforcement actions.”
Will the CfA FOIA Request Cause an Uproar in Orlando?
The question now is, will the CfA’s Freedom of Information Act request spark additional issues by MHAction, the alleged protestors of the Manufactured Housing Institute? After all, two of four executive committee seats at MHI are held by leaders working for Berkshire Hathaway.
With millions on edge after the Charlottesville incident – which was clearly racially motivated – tensions are running high all over the country.
With so many on edge, is it possible that the alleged plans of protests at the Orlando MHI meeting will get out of hand, or even become violent? ## (News, analysis of allegations of racism, steering, predatory lending charges.)
(Editor’s Note: MHProNews began last week preparing a post-Charlottesville statement condemning racism in conjunction with manufactured housing advocate, the Rev. Donald Tye Jr. Stay tuned for that statement and related report.)
(Images credits are as shown, and when by third parties, are provided under fair use guidelines.)
Submitted by Julia Granowicz to the Daily Business News for MHProNews.