If there is one thing that almost everyone likes, it’s good press. The reverse of that reality is that public officials, mainstream media, and professionals dread media scrutiny that reveals unjust behavior.
Against that backdrop is the following mainstream news story out of Columbus, GA. It focused on a manufactured home community threatened with closure by a local official. The uproar is over reported concerns about water, sanitation, and health issues.
This Daily Business News on MHProNews report and analysis will proceed as follows.
- What the local ABC affiliate reported.
- That ABC outlet’s video, with running must-read commentary that clarifies issues in an objective fashion, critiquing media, the local official named, and the claims about the community.
- Third-party manufactured home industry insight.
- BBB snapshot of the community.
- The rapid and professional response by the property owner, which stands in stark contrast to some of the claims being made.
- Analysis and commentary, because this case could reverberate well beyond the incident being reviewed.
For owners and managers in manufactured housing, this should be informative reading and viewing for front-line personnel. Investors, owners, and upper management may also find keen insights in this scenario. Finally, mainstream media as well as public officials can be guided by the facts, analysis, expert insights further below, takeaways, and lessons learned that follow.
What WTVM 9, ABC News Reported:
The text that follows immediately below are from WTVM 9, including typo and nomenclature errors found in the original report, and are provided under fair use, as the local ABC News affiliate published it on the date shown.
John Hudgison, the director of Building Inspections and Code Enforcement for Columbus, says his team went to the area Nov. 15.
Residents were left a notice stating in part, to “make arrangements to vacate property in case the owner cannot repair existing conditions.”
Caleb Walsh, the owner of the site with with Parks Management, described the various issues in an emailed response, as just “minor” code enforcement problems to News Leader 9.
He says there is “no eminent shut-down” and the notice by the city is a “standard” notice to residents letting them know the owner’s responsibility to fix various issues.
Walsh writes, “as always, we will be solving all outstanding issues.” It’s something many living in the area say they don’t believe will be done.
“If this place close down, I don’t have anywhere to go. I was homeless when I got here. I don’t want to be homeless again,” says one renter.
Inspection and Code officials will be on site Monday Nov. 26 to review compliance measures.
Officials say they are preparing and expecting to officially condemn the area.
Residents are being directed to United Way and Housing Authorities for immediate living options.
As our commentary in the video posted above reflects, the introduction to the report by the ABC affiliate was professional and accurate.
However, the report that followed that anchor’s introduction was a mixed bag that begs for clarifying details. It ought to address improper terminology, and other errors, and thus merits expert – corrective – insights. When media staff are under-informed on an issue, they should follow the SPJ Code of Ethics, and get all the information needed to properly and accurately report.
Others from GA in MHVille About This
An early contact with SECO today failed to get a reply prior to press-time, but a source with the Georgia Manufactured Housing Association (GMHA) promptly stated matter-of-factly that neither Caleb Walsh nor his “Park Management” firm are apparently members of their trade group.
The GMHA source did not weigh in on the specifics of this case, which are quite different than the tragic drama in Northern GA involving a SECO planning committee member, and others on the board of that media-and-legally vexed trade group. Sources say those distinctive legal issues involving a SECO board member are still not resolved. See more on that unrelated SECO connected case – but equally instructive report – further below.
What the BBB Says About Ft Benning Estates
The local Better Business Bureau (BBB) provided the following snapshot, captured in the collage as shown.
As noted, Caleb Walsh of Park Management – which reportedly owns Fort Benning Estates – provided prompt replies to a series of questions and follow-ups from MHProNews.
Regarding the BBB, here’s what Walsh’s on-the-record reply said:
“This was our response to the BBB over the complaint that gave the property a C rating. It was filed by one of my staff members named Alexis Murdock:
I filed as response to this complaint for Denna Brown.”
|Denna Brown has been a resident in our Fort Benning Estates property since July of 2018. At the time she moved in we were holding a move-in special in which the $200 she paid moved her in and covered her first month (July 2018 Rent), and there would also be $200 off her first two months (August/September 2018 Rent), also part of the special.
This allowed the amount she was to pay for August and September to be at a discounted rate of just $220 for the first two months, and this also includes her water and trash for those months as well. As per her contract, starting 10/01/18 her rent would go up to the normal rate of $420 a month, including water and trash fees.
Mrs. Brown entered into a rent to own contract in which she agreed that unit repairs (if any) after the time she moved in would be HER responsibility. No changes have been made to her one and only contract and their have been no moves to any other units since the time she has been living in our property. We understood based off of some of the communications she was sending to managers onsite, and on social media that maybe she had not read through her contract or that there was some confusion on what she was to pay and why, so we made several attempts to call her, text her, email her, and even had onsite contacts knock on her door with no response. If we are unable to reach the tenant, regardless of unit repairs being her responsibility we cannot assist with answering her questions or see if the extent of repairs needed are something that we can assist with.
Our goal is to provide affordable housing to people in need at a low cost, and give them the opportunity to own their own home with no credit check required. This was the arrangement Mrs. Brown entered into by signing a Rent to Own contract. That does not mean we will not ensure each and every one of our tenants have proper working necessities to keep them safe and with proper essentials such as water, electricity, and working plumbing. However, we are unsure what unit conditions are an issue for this tenant as stated above, because we have not been able to reach her in any way.
To conclude, we are happy to assist further, keep her as a tenant in our property and ensure she is taken care of if she is willing to allow the contact needed to do this. We can be reached at 855-862-8837 or at email@example.com. We take pride in ensuring that all of our tenants are taken care of in each of our properties and that we provide low income housing for those in need and will continue to do so.”
What Ft. Benning Estates’ owner Caleb Walsh Said About City Claims, Local Media Reporting
What follows are Walsh’s emailed reply, with typos and terminology errors below found in the original message.
“Fort Benning Estates is a 140 unit community located on the south side of Columbus Ga that I have been pouring big capital into renovations and repair of the units and the utility infrastructure. I purchased the property in a distressed condition and am turning around the property like I have with countless other mobile home parks around the nation.
Over the past year as I had plumbing experts and engineers come in and replace and repair the utility infrastructure, it was brought to my attention that the water pressure was unlike anything they had ever seen reaching 120 PSI and higher caused by unregulated pump variation from the city water supply.
With utility bills reaching almost $130,000 for the year I contacted Columbus Water Works about the pressure and my findings. To my surprise they had no interest in a mutual fix or further investigation of the problem but instead wanted to continue being paid the massive amounts for water utility cost.
I brought in my legal team to get an injunction to halt everything until we could solve the physical infrastructure issues and it was discovered that the only judge who could hear the case had a relative who sat on the board of Columbus Water Works. The judge later recused himself when this was brought to light from my attorney and we have been able to keep the water on as we further investigated to fix the issue. Unfortunately the city is now attempting to close down the property through miscellaneous code enforcement issues because our experts made them look bad and brought to light their negligence with the water pressure and the city owned water company.
I have teams on the ground as we speak ensuring top level compliance with code, and I also have legal teams standing by if the city should attempt anything Monday. Thankfully in my decade of experience and my 2000 unit multi state portfolio this isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with a city who had a bias against affordable housing. The city of Columbus would rather put 100 families on the street than put money into fixing their faulty infrastructure. If if comes to that I will go to the mat with the city because in America everyone deserves a place to live!”
Fort Benning’s Facebook Page, and More Insights
The screen capture above reflects a photo array from Facebook that suggests that John Hudgison, the director of Building Inspections and Code Enforcement for Columbus, GA, at best exaggerated his claimed concerns. The unit shown in the photos above don’t appear to be “unfit for human occupancy,” which Hudgison‘s memo, shown further above, alleged is the case for the entire community.
The once homeless man interviewed in the video above is worried about what he would do, if he losses this home at Ft. Benning Estates.
As MHProNews has learned from other incidents in various parts of the U.S., there is often an unstated prejudice against manufactured homes, which can include manufactured home communities. In other cases, there are hidden agendas, such as a publicly unstated desire to see a property closed for redevelopment. That later point is a nagging problem that manufactured home community owners from various states have told MHProNews they have personally encountered.
While the industry’s self-proclaimed post-production national trade association – the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) – acknowledges such realites, they in fact purportedly do ‘fig leaf’ posturing – or nothing at all – in the majority of cases that MHProNews has spot checked for the past 2 years.
Frustration with MHI has resulted in the birth of a new post-production national MH community association. Failure to successfully address the image issue, or regulatory problems, has caused others to initiate their own efforts, see the related reports, linked here and further below.
MHProNews will reach out to the local official involved in this matter, advising him of the trends and concerns raised in his case and others seemingly like it in other jurisdictions. Those have at times ended up with legal actions taken against a given municipality, for steps that on the surface appear similar to what Columbus has threatened in this case. ICYMI, or need a refresher, see one such report, linked below. Another report – at this link – spotlights another case, with more examples crossed-linked.
This pro-industry and pro-consumer trade publication will also ask local media to instruct their reporters to learn and use proper terminology in their reporting about manufactured homes and communities, in order to avoid the appearance of prejudicial, biased, or merely underinformed, and/or ignorant reporting.
Takeaways from Columbus?
When a community operator acquires or takes over the management of a previously neglected property, it takes time, professional effort, and money to bring it up to standards. In this case at Fort Benning Estates, that is apparently being accomplished via free enterprise, through private investment dollars — presumably without local, state, or federal funds.
Walsh has the opportunity for his deed to match his words, provided above. If so, Walsh’s response for the allegations against Ft Benning Estates – if his promises prove accurate – will likely turn this incident into an overblown local bruhaha that could prove his operation to be someone worthy of applause, as opposed to being a business that is perhaps being unfairly targeted by a local official.
If public officials in Columbus, GA promptly and properly respond as did the city officials in Washington, IN, they may avoid an ACLU and other investigations of their case, which a prior MHProNews’ report sparked in that town’s troubling incident. See that, linked below.
These are among the real-world examples of what steps are necessary the manufactured home industry-at-large must take to advance. As MHProNews has said for years, what our industry needs in such cases are an ADL-style response.
Ideally, objective pro-industry, and pro-consumer trade media reports and analysis can work with all honorable, forward-looking professionals in a fashion that nationally spotlights overreach by public officials, and/or by mainstream media. Industry professionals must also be held to account for any failures to properly follow just laws or sound business ethics.
Affordable housing is a critical need, as the once homeless man in the video above reminds us. Manufactured homes can provide options that no other form of permeant housing can match, for quality, safety, and low-cost living. That’s a reasonable takeaway from the National Association or Realtors (NAR) 2018 research about manufactured homes.
That NAR research can be examined in a report found here, along with other insights that are linked further below the byline.
The quality of modern manufactured homes are also reflected in a prior HUD Office of Manufactured Housing Program (OMHP) administrator’s commentary, told to MHLivingNews, in their report in the video shown above. These should be required viewing for media and all public officials who deal with manufactured homes.
Open-minded public officials, like the county official in the video above revealed, find that manufactured homes today are very different than the stigma, prejudice, and/or biased thinking reflects.
It is thus useful for all people of good will concerned about affordable housing to objectively reconsider manufactured homes in the light of facts. Too often, reports and public policy are based upon mere uninformed opinions, that rely upon outdated notions about some of the mobile homes built over 40 years ago, instead of the reality of today’s federally regulated manufactured homes.
It is also necessary for local officials to seek solutions to legitimate problems, but without doing so in a fashion that disrupts the lives of members of a community, such as the ABC affiliate’s video of Fort Benning Estates reflected.
While it is in another nearby state, the views of the affordable housing focus group below, reflects the unpaid views of those who’ve owned conventional housing prior to buying a manufactured home. They are insightful to those with bias or a misunderstanding about modern manufactured homes.
The Daily Business News on MHProNews will continue to monitor and report on this incident in Columbus, GA, as needed. “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (News, analysis, and commentary.)
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“The one issue that will prohibit affordable housing in the future – not only manufactured homes, but site-built – is local zoning and covenants.” – Jay Hamilton, executive director of the Georgia Manufactured Housing Association Armed with facts, figures and studies, he explained that manufactured homes were as well or better built, more fire resistant, more wind resistant – and far more affordable – than their site-built counterparts.
Manufactured Homes Could Help Solve the Affordable Housing Crisis, So, Why Aren’t More Manufactured Homes Being Sold? – manufacturedhomelivingnews.com
People generally don’t buy something that they don’t understand, misunderstand, have concerns about, aren’t motivated to have, or are otherwise unable to buy. Until understanding, interest, desire, opportunity, need, and the means to buy all come together, no purchase is made. There are more details.