A document was recently provided to MHProNews by a respected researcher who is outside of the manufactured housing industry. That document happens to coincide with evidence by another group of manufactured housing industry researchers probing the industry for antitrust and market manipulation efforts. For numbers of manufactured housing industry professionals the term “removable chassis” has little meaning. But there were times, as official federal insights contained in this report will reflect, that the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) directly worked with public officials to thwart benefits to manufactured housing. What follows thus raises the question, why does MHI periodically team up with NAHB when documentary evidence reflects the point that NAHB has for decades routinely worked to thwart support for efforts that would increase the sale of HUD Code manufactured homes?
While the removable chassis is an aspect of this report, it is not the only one. Additional insights will reflect that NAHB has, per the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) opposed Duty to Serve manufactured housing support. Meaning, NAHB has on more than one occasion, past and more recent, attempted to undermine financing options. This matters because as Eric Belsky while he was with Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies made it plain that financing is the lifeblood of housing.
This report, fact-check and analysis will include the following items.
- A). A brief explanation of what a removable chassis is and why that topic matters.
- B). Examples and documents of NAHB formally opposed the “removable chassis” for manufactured homes and how that has limited manufactured housing progress. Documents that reflect the claim that NAHB has opposed opportunities for more manufactured housing sales.
- C). How this evidence fits with the James A “Jim” Schmitz Jr and his colleagues claims that HUD, builders and the NAHB (among others) have long worked to “sabotage” manufactured housing.
- D). More MHProNews Facts and Analysis which begs the question – why has MHI, even recently, teamed up with NAHB when the NAHB has so steadfastly worked to limit manufactured housing sales?
- E) A reminder that Clayton Homes and/or other MHI member firms have reportedly had ties to NAHB. This arguably muddies the waters of MHI ‘advocacy’ given such an apparent conflict of interest. For instance, among the conventional builders that Clayton Homes has purchased are involved with the NAHB.
- F) Various linked and related reports that provide more information.
With that plan of action for this report, here are those bulleted items.
A). The nonremovable chassis was part of the legislation that are part of what is commonly called the HUD Code for manufactured housing. As thousands of manufactured home professionals know, the hitch (‘tongue’) of a manufactured home is commonly removable. Wheels and axles that are part of the transportation ‘running gear’ of a manufactured home are also generally removable. But the metal chassis on manufactured housing itself could – in theory and practically – be removable after a manufactured home is installed. If the law allowed the frame to be removable, several items could change for the better for manufactured housing. Among them? In no specific order of importance, and not limited to these items:
- A1) The home would be a lower profile (‘more residential’) and could look more akin to a conventional house after installation with little difference in cost.
- A2) Foundation enclosures (a.k.a. – ‘skirting’ – be it vinyl, brick, other masonry or materials) would require less materials, which would likely make up in savings the added cost for having a hypothetical removable chassis removed.
- A3) The appearance difference would likely appeal to the public.
That backdrop sets the stage for the evidence that follows.
B). Examples of NAHB formally opposed the “removable chassis” for manufactured homes and how that has limited manufactured housing progress.
- B1). Per an informed source, the NAHB document linked here is a historic example of a NAHB policy resolution opposing a removable chassis for HUD Code manufactured homes.
- B2). Here is a linked example from 2021 of NAHB opposing a removable chassis on HUD Code manufactured homes (see page 10).
- B3). Google books has documentary evidence from the 1990s of NAHB formally opposing in Congress the use of HUD Code manufactured housing with a removable chassis. That example takes specific aim at limiting FHA lending options for manufactured homes if the chassis were removed.
- B4) Per part of a more detailed message from the source that provided the B1 NAHB document: “I attach a NAHB resolution from 1985, calling for HUD to keep the permanent chassis (at the bottom). What a bunch of misinformation and deceit.”
- B5) In fairness, let’s briefly note what some MHI and NAHB apologists might say. Namely, that NAHB co-sponsored the Innovative Housing Showcase with HUD in 2019 that included manufactured homes on display in 2019. Certainly, other occasional examples of ‘support’ from NAHB might be cited. True to a point.
But one must keep in mind the overall thrust of NAHB efforts. It should go without saying that NAHB is a competitor to manufactured housing. So are others that MHI has ‘team up’ or ‘partnered’ with in what they refer to as ‘housing coalition members.’ What MHI touts is hardly something they should be strutting. MHI’s pride in proclaiming ‘housing coalition’ might be akin to a spouse bragging publicly about infidelity and doing so from time to time. Why doesn’t MHI instead announce that they will sue as needed to get enhanced preemption, Duty to Serve (DTS) with the FHFA and Government Sponsored Enterprises enforced? THAT would be worth bragging about. But teaming with competitors in a way that fails to demonstrably benefit the growth of HUD Code manufactured housing? In the dictionary, next to the word ‘Surreal’ Merriam Webster needs to add MHI’s logo for that one.
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C). How this evidence fits with the James A “Jim” Schmitz Jr and his colleagues claims that HUD, builders and the NAHB (among others) have long worked to “sabotage” manufactured housing. See linked reports.
D). Additional Information, More MHProNews Analysis and Commentary
Let’s note that MHI’s leaders, corporate, attorneys, and others have routinely ducked, but have not denied, the evidence or logic. It is increasingly apparent that MHI’s ‘insiders’ are routinely consolidators and/or are beholden to consolidators. The recent report on Tom Hodges is but one of several possible examples of how MHI leaders and/or their attorneys duck accountability. That lack of transparency is not proof of wrongdoing. But it does leave the evidence of wrongdoing by MHI and their corporate insiders publicly unchallenged.
E1) As was noted above, Clayton Homes (BRK) and/or other MHI member firms reportedly have had clear ties to NAHB. This arguably muddies the waters of MHI ‘advocacy’ given such an apparent conflict of interest. For instance, among the conventional builders that Clayton Homes has purchased are involved with the NAHB.
E2) As Business Wire, a Berkshire Hathaway owned brand said on behalf of Skyline Champion (SKY) issued press release: “Mar 17, 2021 — (BUSINESS WIRE)–The National Association of Home Builders has recognized Skyline Champion as an industry leader with two Building Systems …”
E3) According to MHI member Cavco Industries (CVCO) Almost magically, this “village” of modular homes will be assembled behind the Orange County Convention Center just days before the NAHB International Builders Convention (National Association of Home Builders). During the convention, thousands of builders will tour the 2017 Show Village to see the latest innovative construction, remodeling and design materials in use in an artfully displayed series of homes. Then, mere days after the show, these homes will completely disappear almost as magically as they appeared. For the last 13 years, Palm Harbor Homes and Nationwide Homes – both members of the Cavco Incorporated family of builders – have been chosen to provide many of the beautiful homes featured in Professional Builder’s Show Village.
Oddly, Kevin Clayton himself has said during an MHI meeting that manufactured housing should not abandon the entry level base that has made the industry the most proven kind of affordable single-family housing in American history. ‘Dance with the one who brought you,’ Clayton has quipped, a reference to entry level manufactured housing. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with reaching out to conventional builders with upscale manufactured or modular home products. That said, it is foolish to abandon the most affordable homes that made manufactured housing so popular with millions for decades. Abandoning the entry level of manufactured housing would be akin to auto producers not making low cost cars.
- F) Related Linked Information. Beyond the links provided above, are the following linked reports for the consideration of long-term thinkers in manufactured housing, as well as for researchers, public officials, affordable housing advocates and others.
In conclusion, let’s make an important point. The top people at MHI, their attorneys, and those who are in leadership positions among MHI’s top brands that dominate the MHI board of directors are intelligent individuals. Some of the have significant education and/or experience. It is therefor not plausible to believe that MHI has failed for 13 to 21 years to get good existing legislation enforced. As the principle of Occam’s Razor is defined by Oxford Languages: the principle (attributed to William of Occam) that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary.
Based on years of trends, postured, and failed efforts by MHI during an affordable housing crisis is, it should therefore be no surprise that removable chassis – a fine concept – has been buried by MHI. As a reliable industry source has told MHProNews, MHI de facto subverted the removable chassis rule during the 1990s. If so, subverting removable chassis was either short sighted and/or evidence that some at MHI have long been posturing one thing, while doing another. It must not be forgotten that MHI’s past leaders at the turn of the century were Champion and Fleetwood. They were clearly trying to consolidate the industry’s retailers, because they were buying out numbers of retailers, often at an inflated ‘blue sky’ price. Fast forward to the Berkshire era. Unlike the old Champion and Fleetwood leadership (prior to their respective bankruptcies and failures which ended up in their eventually being reorganized under new ownership structure umbrellas than exist for those same brand names today), lenders and others associated with Berkshire Hathaway apparently worked to limit the lending and other opportunities to advance HUD Code manufactured homes. By crashing the industry’s production, Clayton and the other two “Big Three” members of MHI’s production went from far smaller market shares to their dominating positions today.
The Buffett “moat” method has arguably – per the evidence of sources inside and beyond manufactured housing – constricted the industry to the point that eliminating competitors. Industry professional with more than short term plans? Ignore the evidence at your own risk. Keep in mind that consolidated industries often result in fewer job opportunities and other woes for consumers and employees alike.
Closing practical tip? Stop feeding the hands that bite you.
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By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – for MHProNews.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.
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