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Manufactured Housing – Losing, Lemmings and MH Winning

January 26th, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Housing isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a human necessity. Physically – not spiritually – speaking, there is food, clothing, transportation and shelter. In the natural order, all else is a bonus.

In the USA, affordable housing is a growing need. No industry – on paper – can make a better case for being the affordable housing solution. Manufactured homes – MH – is a uniquely American industry.

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The collage above is both real and symbolic.  The homes shown are from independent producers and from major firms alike. There is work to do to make the collage a reality. Image credit, MHLivingNews.com.

The facts noted aren’t opinions, they are indisputable realities that if debated we could easily make the case for, and we do that digitally daily here, and to the public-at-large on MHLivingNews.

As the industry’s premier professional trade media – and most respected independent voice – the Masthead blog on MHProNews brings you views today and moving ahead that will take a politically incorrect, but pro-goal and solution oriented look at the following question.

So why doesn’t the MH Industry win more often in DC?

It’s a multi-billion dollar a year question. That means, your share of lost profits could be in the millions. Why doesn’t MH do better in the media, and better politically in DC?

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Housing is a trillion dollar a year industry. MH is doing maybe 5 billion a year in sales. When will we take the steps necessary to advance the industry’s cause successfully, so that professionals and investors can earn what the industry’s true potential is? Image credit, blah-blah, blah.

We asked, here are examples of what we’ve been told.

The industry blew it during the early part of the Obama Administration and in the waning days of the Bush era,” an insider told MHProNews. “We had the opportunity to do great things for MH in Washington (DC), and fumbled it away.”

MHI’s CEO has the solid support of the Executive Committee,” another said. “A strong statement of support was made for Dick Jennison when his contract was extended.”

The flip side of that are those who say that Jennison has a tenuous relationship with staffers, and has a series of what some would say are notable – and avoidable – missteps with non-profit groups such as CFED, with MHARR and with others.

Example. While we see the world very differently than anti-MHC activist Ishbel Dickens on most things, please note her quote to us below:

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Isbhel can tell you as well as anyone that we disagree on most things, but this statement of her’s we happen to have confirmed – quite by chance – by MHI. Ishbel Dickens, NMHOA, photo credit Madison Park Times.

Tim and I have met with the Board Chair and the in-house counsel for MHI and offered to try to negotiate acceptable compromise legislation regarding HR 650. However, to no avail.”

The “Tim” above means Tim Sheahan, NMHOA President. MHI’s Chair at the time referenced was

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Tim Sheahan, President, NMHOA. Photo credit. National Manufactured Home Owners Association (NMHOA).

Nathan Smith, of SSK Communities. MHI’s attorney naturally reports to its president, Richard “Dick” Jennison.

Some of the other missteps made by paid MHI staff were documented – by MHI! – on MHProNews. An example is linked here, where Dick Jennison is said to have instructed Jason Boehlert to pull the trigger on issuing the victory-lap statement on meetings with the non-profits.

So what?

The problem was, that Jennison and Boehlert alledgedly didn’t clear the comment with the non-profits.

He wanted a victory to report, and we were personally asked to report it, to maximize the spread of the RichardDickJennison-MHI-CEO-PostedMHProNews-com‘good news’ on this topic to the MH Industry at large.

We did, word for word as we were asked to publish it. They were pleased, and thanked us for publishing their letter by Jason.

However, when the non-profits saw what they had published on MHProNews, they let Dick know they wanted to rip Jennison a new one.

We’ve sat on facts and insights like these and numerous others we have in hand, hoping the mistakes at MHI were going to be corrected.

In that hope, let me hereby admit my being wrong.  In the wake of the ongoing mishandling of the media, non-profits, politicos, MHI’s own members, etc. – and others that we won’t mention or publish today, but may soon – we are past tired of waiting.  

Moi had to look in the mirror and ask a tough question.  Are all in MH going to suffer and wait endlessly for the next track to replay on the same scarred vinyl record?

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Vunyl record, stuck playing the same track, over and over. Royalty free image credit, dreamtime.

Inside MH

For those who don’t understand DC politics, the support of CFED and other non-profit groups such as Dickens-led NMHOA for MHI’s Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act bill would have meant the difference between a fight to pass the earlier or current versions of HR 650/S 682, and smooth sailing with both major parties in an agreement.

Dickens knows that reality. So read her words again with that context:

Tim (Sheahan) and I have met with the Board Chair (Nathan Smith) and the in-house counsel for MHI and offered to try to negotiate acceptable compromise legislation regarding HR 650. However, to no avail.”

I recall the briefing Nathan Smith gave to MHI members in attendance at MHI about the then-latest meeting on Preserving Access. It was what you’d expect from the opposite side of NMHOA’s pole in politics.

Those same non-profit groups may be wrong on the facts of industry financing and much else; and in the case of CFED, they may have a conflict of interest with the CFPB – which we exclusively broke the story on – linked here. To my knowledge, CFED hasn’t tried to explain that reported conflict-of-interest away. When something is true, it makes it harder to deny.

We’re doing our job today as pro-industry trade media by exposing what too few would know otherwise. The repeated missteps in Arlington directly and indirectly can costs your operation serious money. The graphs below tell the tale.

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Facts and image credit – US Census Bureau, Reed Construction and MHProNews.

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Credit – Bipartisan Policy Center.

When And Why Facts Don’t Always Matter…

In a normal world, having the facts on your side should mean victory. In the topsy turvey world of DC, that’s not always true.

But to screw up repeatedly, to snatch a bloody nose at the hands of PBS rather than be taking another step toward industry victory on a key finance issue that harms millions of MH home owners and thousands of MH businesses, that takes real talent.

Here are some comments and insights from MHI members and loyalists:

1) A prominent state executive first said a couple of years ago that the way the Preserving Access was being handled was going to lead to its likely defeat. That same exec did what he felt he could to advance the cause with his members. In the aftermath of the ST/BF and PBS reports, the statement yesterday to us was, has said exec now been proven right? The exec and others believe so.

2) After a briefing, another industry figure described Dick Jennison – almost three years ago – as sounding “clueless” on key industry issues being pushed then and still now in DC. That professional was telling MHProNews how concerned he was about how things were being managed in negotiations with the CFPB, and in promoting the prior version of Preserving Access to Congress.

Ironically, that person is working today for MHI. Perhaps that pro is patiently waiting for Jennison to be replaced?

3) Nor is that person alone in seeing how things are being handled in Arlington. Another at MHI is also awaiting Dick’s retirement – or other exit – with an eye on Jennison’s desk and chair.  Can you image how such inner-office rivals manage to make good things happen?

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Our private and other efforts to stop the chaos have born no fruit.  So now, to end the repeated bottle necks the MHIndustry encounters in its political efforts, we and others must be willing to boldly identify the choke points. The above image is credit to Google’s online definition.

4) We hear from a growing list of long time MHI devotees – people who have paid dues and have served the organization for years – lament off-the-record why things are SNAFU’d. A polite Google definition of snafu is above, but do a search for the Urban Dictionary definition of SNAFU, please…

5) There are plenty of supporters for Arlington-based MHI’s measure. So why does MHI so often come up short? As we opened this column, affordable housing is a bipartisan issue. With the above fumbles, infighting and lack of confidence in leadership in mind, are you getting the picture of why we don’t win in DC?

Is the following quote the answer?

Tony, I’m tired of being a lemming, running off the cliff in support of the endless chase of MHI’s bill. Most of the state associations we are members of work far more effectively than MHI. You’ve been promoting passage of the current and two prior versions of Preserving Access for years. Let’s be honest. The PAC money, time and effort are being wasted. The way it works there is a mess. I was told that when Nathan (Smith) called the office, other staffers said Jennison would run to the phone. Okay, great. Dick has the (MHI) budget balanced, but the bill (HR 650/S 682) and regulatory reforms MHI lobbies for aren’t getting done. I’d rather he’d slowly swagger to the phone, because he gets the job done, than have him run because there is no good news to report.”

6) We are told there are *** larger battles looming in DC. *** Can MHI afford to keep hoping to get it right? Can we keep watching missed field goals and missed opportunities to score touchdowns? When the same mistakes keep coming up in sports or any other profession, sorry – but sooner or later – doesn’t a change have to be made?

One long time MH veteran told me a total house cleaning has to happen at MHI. Nothing less than that will do, was that professional’s take.

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Total house cleaning? Pardon me, but the Masthead doesn’t see it that way. At the same time, the question of some degree of clean-up being necessary…isn’t that a different story?

We Provide, You Decide. ©

Releasing the MHI letter to PBS

Jennison has been asked and asked to release the 3 page letter sent to PBS by MHI. What good is that letter if it is read once at PBS and then tossed into file 13?

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MHI logo is their trademark, and is used here for editorial purposes only. MHProNews Spotlight, credit, MHProNews.

Tony, please stay on that getting that alleged 3 page letter sent by MHI to PBS. The lack of transparency at MHI is stunning. Maybethe letter they sent PBS is great. Maybe it’s weak. Who the hell knows? Members paid for the work that went into that letter. We as dues payers deserve to see it published! Please, keep the heat on them regarding this issue!”

Ok.

I was asked, when was the last MHI Week in Review (WiR) published? As I told an MHI staffer a few weeks ago, sometimes that goes into my spam, so I don’t always see it. So the question intrigued me. Given the query, I did a careful check. I came up with the date, January 8th. Surely, with a growing staff at MHI, that couldn’t be correct, so I called an MHI board member, he double checked too, and the last time MHI sent out WiR. He also said, January 8th.

Why call it “week in review?” One message to MHProNews said:

There are some things they print in Week in Review and in their Housing Alerts that are so clearly fluff, one has to wonder why they bother at all. To call the FHFA outcome on Duty to serve a “significant victory” is pure spin. Total propaganda.” 

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“Total propaganda?” That’s too strong a comment, but it reflects the mood of some MHI loyalists. MHI’s logo is their property, and the above is used here under fair use guidelines.

Here above is the full MHI alert, to set the context of that writer’s comment. Please *** closely read paragraph two *** which is clearly contradictory. The above is used here under fair use guidelines, to spotlight the point of pure spin by MHI being given to members and through them, to the industry.  Is that reporting?

Let’s be clear. A truly “significant victory” for manufactured housing would mean, DTS for MH chattel lending was going to be included in the proposed rule. The word for months was that it was an all but done deal. By contrast, the reality check is that asking for public comments, means the odds are now against you. Some say, its a conspiracy. We think that’s unlikely. Candidly, isn’t the more likely case that this issue too has been badly mishandled?  More incompetence?

Release the Federal Minutes!

Do you see why some are calling for MHI to ask FHFA to release the minutes of their closed door meeting with FHFA?

MHI members can be loyal, and most are! But what does it say about those in Alrington who ok’d the Housing Alert letter above – which we’re told had to pass through Dick Jennison’s hands before going out to members – are being given spin instead of the obvious truth?

Yes. Given the pattern of recent years, the reason for frustration with Arlington and this or that particular person there is increasingly clear. Some loyalists who used to go to MHI meetings, no longer do. They send someone else from their operation, or don’t go at all.

Another MHI member told me there was no other option, no other national association “game in town” for his segment of the industry.

No competition might be helpful for job security at MHI, but in the real world, when you go years with minimal or no real results, you don’t keep large checks and big desks.”

Filling the Vacuum?

Compared to such serious issues, it seems petty to talk about the difference between how MHI and MHARR respectively count new home shipments. That’s like an American debating the cost of tea in China. That puts not a nickel in anyone’s pocket, save those who peddle that petty stuff.

But there is a big difference – a costly one – when top MHI staff are said to be keeping important facts from others, including secrets that ought to be known by other office or remote staff – or most espeically – from dues paying members, whose livelihoods are being impacted by MHI.

To be fair and balanced, there are some issues we get answers from top staff in Arlington, but on others like the 3 page letter to PBS issue – silence.  To be equally fair, we invite MHI’s president to respond to the specific issues raised by this column. Will he?

Or will something else fill that MHI vacuum?

No Third Party…not yet

The 40 billion dollar man – former NYC Mayor, Michael Bloomberg – has floated a trial balloon. Should Hillary falter in Iowa and lose big in NH – and/or get indicted by the Feds – Bloomberg could toss an independent hat in the ring, and fund himself to the tune of $1B for the 2016 race.

Is there a trial balloon floating in MH, about a breakaway group born of the rifts and frustration within MHI?

Hmmm, yes, but at this point, they are no more serious than Bloomberg’s is, likely less so. But…

Don’t throw in the towel…

For those tired of DC politics as usual, let me say, please don’t throw in the towel yet.

Your voice matters. Who is the industry?  James Cook answered that by saying, each of us are.

These issues impact your businesses. They impact the value of MH home owners. They cost the industry billions of dollars a year.

We will continue to promote success for home owners and businesses alike. But we aren’t going to encourage lemming-like behavior that gets us no where good, and does that slowly.

Frustration-lead change looks to be coming in both major parties. Could frustration lead change be coming to MHI too?

Manufactured housing is a non-partisan issue.  The industry’s thousands of businesses and millions of home owners deserve a more cogent, cohesive effort than what we see from the Arlington, VA based MHI efforts in DC.

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Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.  Loyalty isn’t about being a yes man, its about doing what’s right for the whole organization and industry. It doesn’t take an genius to know that you don’t keep doing the same things, the same way, and expect to get a new and better result. Photo credit, WikiCommons. Poster credit, MHProNews.

We Provide, You Decide ©

Next up…Tunica!

There will be news about Tunica, and one – possibly two – new Cup of Coffee interviews for the rapidly approaching February issue of MHProNews featured articles. Look for that in under a week, and please check back this weekend for more views from the Masthead that are Inside MH.We Provide, You Decide.” © ##

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Standing Room Only seminars are scheduled for the 2016 Tunica Manufactured Housing Show, including SuperCharged Marketing and Sales, Financing and MHC/Retail Lessons Learned. More Tunica Show details, linked here.

By L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach.

L.A. 'Tony' Kovach, MHM - Publisher, Marketing Director and Industry Consultant
http://www.linkedin.com/in/latonykovach
Manufactured Home Marketing Sales Management trade journal
www.MHMarketingSalesManagement.com aka MHMSM.com aka MHProNews.com
tony@mhmsm.com
863-213-4090