Imagine for the new few minutes that you are a detective trying to solve a mystery. Detectives look for clues and examine evidence. Investigators ought to be objective. Like a doctor seeking the cause for an ailment, there are tests, results, facts, and reason that should to be the drivers for solving any puzzle.
Investigators ask questions, such as – who benefits from a certain action(s) or inaction(s)? Detectives also ‘follow the money.’ Keep those two questions in mind, as we explore what follows about the need for more affordable housing.
Wikipedia reflected that some 40 nations have a higher rate of home ownership than the U.S. has. That fact in and of itself ought to be viewed as a mystery. After all, our nation has more wealth, American workers tend to earn more than other nations, and so on. So why is there an affordable housing crisis in the U.S. at all?
With a detective’s or MD’s mindset in searching earnestly for the truth, let’s take a fresh look at the affordable housing crisis. We’ll consider a wide variety of sources in what follows. Let’s start with several known facts with their sources.
- Apartment List said in 2018 that there are some 111 million Americans living in rental housing.
- There are about 138.45 million housing units in 2018, per Statista.
- There are an estimated 22 million Americans living in millions of pre-HUD Code mobile homes, or post HUD Code manufactured homes, per the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) or other sources.
- The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) said in 2018 that there is a need for some 7.2 million more affordable housing units in the USA.
- The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has said in 2018 that some 75 percent of renters want to be homeowners.
We’ll circle back to these bullets later, because tens of millions of Americans are arguably being deprived and economically harmed by unjust circumstances that could be described as corruption, which will be outlined herein. That purported harm – per what years of research reveals – isn’t just to renters. It is also financial harm to existing housing owners, plus federal, local, and state taxpayers too.
Therefore, solving this mystery could benefit tens of millions. This report reveals aspects of issues that will figure into the 2020 campaign. We’ll unpack all that, step-by-step.
What Experts and Researchers Have Said
After doing significant research for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), Certified Business Economist (CBE) Scholastica Coronation made the following, surprising statement for the Journal of Real Estate as part of her broader report on the overall manufactured housing market, linked here.
In May 2019, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, M.D. – whose agency overseas federally regulated manufactured housing – said this.
“On a recent visit to Alabama, I was shown a site that was demolished by massive tornadoes – and the only homes in the area that successfully weathered the storm were manufactured houses.* It was a silent testament to their resilience.“
Lest some think that Dr. Carson is merely a partisan with a hidden agenda, Secretary Carson’s predecessor is a member of the other major party and said the following in a video.
Or consider this bipartisan legislative study group’s research findings. Note that we often turn quotes bold and brown to make them ‘pop,’ but the text is otherwise as the quoted party wrote or said it.
Mark Koran, R-North Branch, and Carolyn Laine, DFL-Columbia Heights, are members of the Minnesota State Senate. They wrote the following: “In today’s increasingly partisan political climate, examples of lawmakers working across the aisle are few. Fortunately, in St. Paul, there is already a group of legislators demonstrating what it means to shed party labels and work in a bipartisan manner.”
“Communities across our state are facing shortages of affordable housing.”
“However, rather than focusing solely on traditional affordable housing options, the Manufactured Housing Working Group [MHWG] aims to present manufactured housing as a critical component of Minnesota’s affordable housing continuum, providing the lowest-cost unsubsidized housing throughout the state.”
“Whether supporting a current manufactured home community or envisioning a new single-family manufactured home development, the possibilities for excellent living at truly affordable rates make this an exciting option in the affordable housing toolbox.”
“To construct a new single-family manufactured home development including all neighborhood infrastructure costs, the typical price per unit is $150,000. In comparison, a high-density apartment complex usually costs $250,000 per unit to construct.”
“In terms of preservation costs, manufactured housing developments cost about $8,000 to 9,000 per unit to preserve the basic infrastructure, while apartment complexes cost $50,000 to $70,000 per unit to maintain.”
“Other forms of affordable housing simply cannot match this. This is truly a win-win-win for families seeking quality affordable living, communities seeking increased property value and businesses seeking employees.”
“While we acknowledge the importance of traditional housing options, we need manufactured housing as an extra tool to help us solve our state’s housing crisis.”
The MHWG co-authors also noted that, “In our state, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) provides grants and bonds to support the development and maintenance of affordable housing statewide. Unfortunately, current rules bar manufactured housing from competing for these grants and bonds. The Working Group has pushed for including manufactured housing as a qualifying option for all housing programs under the MHFA.”
In case someone might think these quotes are all aberrations from individuals who may be well meaning, but aren’t being technical or accurate, how about the perspective of a Ph.D. in engineering?
“That box [a manufactured home] is going to be built better than any site-built home, unless it’s [the conventional house is] built to hurricane standards,” said Tim Reinhold, senior vice president of research and chief engineer for the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) to award-winning journalist, Jan Hollingsworth.
Reinhold said that after (IBTS) studied the impact of hurricane force winds on conventional and manufactured housing. The engineer and NBC News noted that improper add-ons were the cause of 80 percent of the failures of manufactured homes in hurricanes.
Keep in mind IBTS’ motivation is to reduce losses, which might save money for insurance providers. They have every reason to be objective and accurate.
Put differently, there is substantial third-party evidence that the manufactured home structure itself rarely fails in windstorms, instead, what occurred according to the research is that additions after installation that were improperly installed caused most windstorm failures.
With that in mind, when it comes to tornadoes and safety, the statement of a National Weather Service (NWS) expert and an accompanying video linked below – which includes dramatic news and research footage – is worth a good look. Because that video and NWS claim flies in the face of common concepts. But the dramatic visual evidence – plus survivor and eye-witness testimony – are compelling.
Weather Expert’s Surprising, Bombshell Statement on Tornado Deaths and Affordable Manufactured Homes
Statements like those from experts who’ve studied manufactured housing in depth starkly contrast with commonly held beliefs.
Let’s be 100 percent clear that this isn’t about any expressed or implied claim that manufactured homes are tornado or hurricane proof, as the report and video linked above makes clear. Most above ground structures can’t honestly claim that, and we don’t either.
But it is to take head-on perhaps the most common misconceptions about manufactured home durability, including based on how relatively rare deaths occur in such storms. If most people can be wrong about those concerns about manufactured homes blowing away in the first wind, what else might millions have missed? And how were such impressive facts missed so long by so many?
Just as hundreds of conventionally-built houses or commercial construction were swept away by tornadoes in Moore, OK or Joplin, MO, so too every year a few pre-HUD Code mobile homes are lost in windstorms. Manufactured housing, if there are improper add-ons, or if flying debris penetrates a home’s envelope, or for other causes, can also be lost. While each loss is regrettable, the facts remain that it is only a tiny number every year that grab sensationalized headlines. But similar claims can obviously be applied to conventional construction too, as the tragedies of Moore and Joplin remind us.
This point is that manufactured homes are far more durable and safer than is commonly believed — and are also significantly lower in cost, as HUD Secretary Carson said in his recent address.
What about energy? Professor Harold Hunt, Ph.D., at the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University did research that debunked the old mobile home stereotypes when juxtaposed with manufactured homes proven energy efficiency. Aren’t such facts the start of a useful prescription for the affordable housing crisis?
But there are also common perceptions that manufactured homes instantly drop in value. One can read or hear claims like a manufactured home loses value, much like a new car as soon as it is driven off a dealership’s lot.
However common that belief, the facts reveal that’s not a given either. Who says? NAR’s Cororaton’s expert economic research clarifies and largely debunks that too. She as a CBE said that manufactured homes appreciate in value. While manufactured homes on privately owned property tend to appreciate better, we’ll link why valid issues related to resale values in leased land need to be reexamined.
Facts are what they are, and we believe that the facts should speak loudly. Rephrased, manufactured homes in general appreciate or decline in value for the same generic reasons as conventional housing does. That conventional housing can lose value, one need but think back to the 2008 housing/mortgage crisis.
The links and asterisks that follow are not in the original, but where added by MHLivingNews to reference those points the HUD secretary made. After saying that manufactured homes can be about half-the-cost to build, Secretary Carson said, “These dramatic cost savings in construction enable responsible citizens to secure housing that may be considerably less expensive than renting or purchasing a site-built home.*
And yet, even at this lower price, manufactured homes appreciate in value at a rate similar to site-built homes, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency Housing Price Index.*
Once more, let’s be clear. Just as conventional housing can lose value for a variety of different factors, those parallel circumstances can harm the resale value of a manufactured home. There is more in common between single-family site-built and manufactured homes than most people realize.
What about manufactured homes allegedly harming the value of neighboring conventional housing?
Trulia in 2018 published research that said that affordable housing has no significant impact on conventional housing values. More specifically, HUD commissioned university-level research specifically looked at manufactured homes in neighborhoods with conventional housing. They looked at what the impact of that was on both kinds of housing and their resale values. That 2011 study in cities in different parts of the country found that properly sited manufactured homes appreciated side-by-side with conventional housing. Rephrased, it was a similar result to the more recent Trulia research.
So once more, common beliefs about manufactured homes are often mistaken. No doubt it was with similar research in mind that sparked Dr. Lisa Tyler, Ph.D. to state the following.
Let me note in passing that Ms. Cororaton in her first footnote on page 48, or then Ph.D candidate – now Dr. Tyler – both kindly acknowledged this writer’s insights and/or support in their respective research. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) 2014 white paper on manufactured homes cited an article here on Manufactured Home Living News (MHLivingNews). Evidence we’ve published on topics like manufactured home financing has been introduced into the Congressional record. Rephrased, we’re experts cited by others, not just mere opinion writers. We blend facts, research, evidence, experience, and reason while presenting information that withstands scrutiny. We credit and cite sources, as writers, researchers, journalists, and others ought to do.
That segue aside, let’s return to Tyler’s point. Because she based her extensive research on scholarship that had to be within 5 years of her own doctoral dissertation. Dr. Tyler’s scholarship also had to be peer reviewed before it was accepted.
In fact, as a prior article on MHLivingNews reveals, there are decades of third-party research that routinely debunks misconceptions about manufactured homes.
Ultimate Reporters, Researchers, Affordable Housing Advocates, or Shoppers 3’rd Party Research Reports on Mobile Homes, Manufactured Homes, and Modular Housing
For example, 15 years before Tyler, after his own research, Harvard’s Eric Belsky said that he expected manufactured homes to surpass conventional housing.
All the above begs the question. How is it possible that common beliefs about manufactured homes can be so mistaken?
Let’s examine that point, because there is substantial evidence explored below which arguably demonstrates that it is not accidental.
- That is not meant to imply that the causes lies primarily with those outside of our industry.
- Rather, it is logically either routine and ongoing incompetence in key places within manufactured housing,
- or corruption from within the ranks of manufactured housing.
- Given that the people involved in the industry are routinely knowledgeable and well educated – and have often been working in manufactured housing professionally for long periods of time – incompetence seems unlikely.
That statement by Harvard’s Belsky, quoted above, used to be part of the literature produced and distributed by the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI). The Arlington, VA based MHI once found it worthwhile to publish Belsky or others like him. We believe his comments were and are still relevant. So why is Belsky’s research, or even his name, not found on the MHI website?
Or why – almost two weeks after Secretary Carson’s full address to an MHI audience – is Carsons’ address not on MHI’s own website? Hold those thoughts.
Or why is the subject of federal “enhanced preemption” of manufactured housing established under the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000 not on MHI’s website?
By contrast, the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) has numerous references to enhanced preemption. As a disclosure, let’s note that MHARR is an advertiser on our MHProNews website, but MHI was an advertiser of ours too, apparently until our research and fact-checks made them uncomfortable. Facts are what they are, sponsorships aside, and we demonstrably search for the facts without favor.
Are these or numerous other possible examples mere oversights by MHI? Or do they reveal something else? Hold those questions for now, because we’ll examine that too.
One might begin by asking, why does it matter what is or isn’t on MHI’s website?
A trade association or nonprofit operates under a specific premise. A nonprofit makes a set of statements under penalties of perjury. Let’s note what MHI claims on their website.
Next, here are parts of what MHI’s current president, Richard ‘Dick’ Jennison, has said in IRS Form 990, which is signed under penalties of perjury. These are from Guidestar, for the most recent year available on this date.
Jennison’s signed a statement that claims the following on their IRS 990, under penalties of perjury. We’ve taken the all caps off, but otherwise, it is as shown above. In response to the IRS 990 question, ‘Briefly describe the organization’s mission,’ here is MHI’s formal answer.
“Improve the overall operating environment for the manufactured housing industry and expand the demand for manufactured homes by seeking fair and equitable treatment in the marketplace and the regulatory and legislative arenas.”
Summarized, MHI claims to be working to mitigate regulatory barriers and to improve the market for manufactured housing. They claim to be working to grow sales – expand demand – for manufactured homes too. Those are reasonable claims to make for a normal trade group.
Indeed, as part of their pitch for new members in the fall of 2018, MHI released a self-promoting video, from which the following stills or ‘screen captures’ were taken.
While it is true that MHI has a social media page, or has paid for advertorials that have been published in newspapers, it is a preposterous exaggeration that they claim that they “Reached an audience of 84 million consumers.” If so, if the claim isn’t exaggerated – then it might rank among the most ineffective promotional campaigns on record. Either way, the claim is bogus. Because during an affordable housing crisis, manufactured home sales have declined year over year in the past 7 months, as even MHI has admitted.
Even if that recent trend of declining manufactured homes sales suddenly reversed, it would not change the importance of what this fact-check and related search for evidence about the causes for the industry’s struggles has revealed.
Note that even publicly traded MHI member companies in their investor relations packages have highlighted through graphics like the one below that the industry is underperforming by historic rates. The comments and arrows are ours, but the data is Skyline-Champion’s (SKY). That begs the question, which we are exploring with this report. How is that slow growth or decline possible, given the growing affordable housing crisis, and so much pro-manufactured housing evidence?
Returning to Secretary Carson and MH Related Points
Further below we’ll point to ‘pull quotes’ from HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s recent address in New Orleans to MHI’s so-called ‘Congress and Expo’ annual meeting. Like the quotes from Carson above, they are largely positive points that a normal trade association would relish publicizing.
Let’s emphasize that the address by HUD’s top official was given to the Arlington, VA based Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) meeting.
At this time, almost two weeks since his talk, why is Carson’s speech entirely absent from the MHI website? Even if they posted it now, it doesn’t change the fact that during a downturn, MHI is failing to promptly do the obvious.
Bear in mind their mission and IRS 990 claims.
Or perhaps more to the point, why hasn’t MHI used their media contacts to promote the Carson address? We asked HUD for a copy of Secretary Carson’s remarks before they were given, so once available, we had them. As of this writing, Carson’s full address are found linked here on MHLivingNews, or on MHProNews, or one could get them directly from HUD.
Why are they found in toto nowhere else?
These screen captures illustrate other obvious and related disconnects. For instance, the Carson video from 2018, it’s missing from their website too. The HUD Secretary Julian Castro video, shown above, is also missing from MHI’s posted video collection. Why did they show these videos to their members, but not show those same videos to the public at large? Who needs to see these positive, useful videos more? MHI members or media, researchers, and the general public? Whom are they trying to impress?
During an affordable housing crisis, with the primary regulators – HUD Secretaries – singing what could be the industry’s song – how could such obvious items be missed? How is that in keeping with their website’s claims and IRS 990 mission statement?
Similar questions ought to be asked about other positive, third-party research that has been published for decades, as those too are likewise not found on the MHI website. Is the mystery we as hypothetical detectives are exploring with this report deepening?
Let’s hit pause on that, and pivot to a parallel issue that may shed light. In investigations, reporters and law enforcement alike ask questions like ‘who benefits?’ Investigations also ‘follow the money.’
Since Warren Buffett led Berkshire Hathaway first entered the manufactured housing industry in 2003, the industry’s total new home production level is lower today in 2019 than it was in 2003.
Are we as intelligent people to believe that with Berkshire’s deep pockets, various experts, and extensive media resources, that they are not able to grow the manufactured home industry’s sales during an affordable housing crisis? Why did the industry slump after Berkshire got into the industry?
Let’s examine that nettlesome issue.
There is undisputed evidence:
- using key items directly quoted from Berkshire Hathaway documents authored by Warren Buffett,
- or a letter signed by Tim Williams of 21st Mortgage – a Berkshire brand,
- or an in depth video interview of Kevin Clayton, CEO of Berkshire owned Clayton Homes,
that all point to what some attorneys have told MHProNews appear to be good evidence of alleged prima facia antitrust violations.
Here is a key letter from that report. Note that important claims in this letter below are contradicted by Buffett’s annual letter, and by Kevin Clayton‘s statements in a video interview, both linked below the 21st letter, signed by their president, Tim Williams.
Bridging Gap$, Affordable Housing Solution Yields Higher Pay, More Wealth, But Corrupt, Rigged Billionaire’s Moat is Barrier
The goal of that purported ‘smoking gun’ evidence of collusion in an antitrust ploy would be market consolidation into the hands of Berkshire brands, along with some ‘big boy’ allies in other segments of the industry.
Further below, we’ll display the specific impact of 21st’s cut off of credit to many independents on the manufactured home industry’s market.
When CNBC’s Diana Olick asked Kevin Clayton this past week about the apparent intention of Warren Buffett to dominate not only manufactured housing, but housing in general, Clayton Homes’ CEO did not deny that point. Rather, Kevin said he and his firm were blessed to be part of a ‘100 year plan.’ The video begins with a question on tariffs, but pivots to the topic noted in this paragraph.
Let’s note that this writer and our publications have given Clayton Homes, 21st, Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance (VMF), MHI leaders, and their attorneys numerous – documented – opportunities to respond in writing to such published concerns, among others. At each turn, they declined comment about the allegations. We respect their 5th amendment right to remain silent.
But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t responded at all, because one could argue that they have acted both indirectly and directly. But the responses have been what a MHEC Executive – the Manufactured Housing Executives Association – made up of state association executives, plus MHI and MHARR – told MHProNews was evidence of “association malpractice.”
Before pushing deeper, let’s note for context that the same people based in the Knoxville, TN metro or at Arlington, VA based MHI who now duck our questions used to respond promptly for years. Our firm was an MHI member for some 7 years. I was elected by my peers to serve on an MHI board.
So, what happened?
As I’m writing this, among the industry correspondence I’ve been replying to today, was a fine gent who has deep ties with the pre-HUD Code mobile home industry in industrial design. He was around into the early post-HUD Code era too, which produced the first manufactured homes (MH) starting on June 15, 1976. That fine fellow accused me of ‘being divisive and political,’ for tackling issues like this one.
Bluntly, he’s not alone. As a manufactured housing producer told me, ‘Tony, I’ll bet you are no longer on MHI’s Christmas card list.’
Perhaps that industrial designer – and others – are unaware of the fact that while the now defunct Manufactured Home Merchandiser Magazine was being published, for which I was a periodic contributor, I publicly called for industry ‘unity.’ That’s something that MH industrial designer and others said I should work toward. What they don’t realize or recall, is that I did just that for years, from within MHI.
Or perhaps he and others may have forgotten that I tried for years to ‘bridge the gaps’ between MHI and MHARR, using reason, my own time, plus the resources of our twin industry-leading publications. The photo at left was but one symbolic effort, among several things attempted over the years. Yours truly arranged for and took that photo between MHI’s President Richard ‘Dick’ Jennison and then vice president, now MHARR President, Mark Weiss, JD. I tried to get the parties together in a variety of ways.
I learned slowly, the hard way, that unity was the goal of some ‘big boys,’ but it arguably wasn’t a unity that allowed for independent companies maintaining their independence.
Unity can be achieved by consensus building, or by outright conquest. The evidence reflects that conquest unity is the aim of some power players. That sort of unity I categorically reject, and once that pattern began to seriously dawn upon me, our reporting and analysis began to pivot.
In fairness to that industrial design fellow, this writer missed points a few years ago too, as a thorough look into the older articles on this site or our sister site would reflect. Put differently, I goofed on some things previously, so I can’t – or shouldn’t – be too hard on those that miss details that may be more significant than first meets the eye. I frankly admit to having done the same. But no more.
We were correct about manufactured homes, and the industry in general. But we were arguably missing key facts about why the industry was and still is underperforming. It was only after numerous news tips from MHI sources, MHARR, sources inside and outside of the industry, and numerous oddities like those noted herein that a picture emerged. That puzzling image pointed to alleged deliberately deceptive practices by MHI leaders aimed at their own smaller members.
In fairness to myself before the light-bulb fully turned on, who would dream that MHI would be working contrary to the interests of the bulk of the industry, and against their public promises made to many of their own members?
Hold those thoughts. The evidence suggests that the goal of these schemes is arguably to consolidate the industry into ever fewer hands. Before racing to conclusions, consider the following.
Consolidation, monopoly, and antitrust seem to be hotter issues today than a decade ago or so ago.
Several 2020 presidential hopefuls are running for office about the topic of consolidation, monopolization, and why antitrust laws ought to be vigorously enforced. The Trump Administration reportedly has an executive order drafted on antitrust related issues. The interest and concerns over monopoly power are bipartisan, though how they would go about that may differ.
- The New York Times had an interesting article on the historic trends, and named several industries being monopolized.
- The Atlantic, without specifying how the monopolization was being accomplished, noted that the independent retailers in manufactured housing were being rapidly eliminated/consolidated, that report is linked here.
- GuruFocus said “Warren Buffett Can’t Escape Unethical Strategic Moats,” their specific points are linked here.
- The Nation called it “The Dirty Secret Behind Warren Buffett’s Billions…” and specifies Clayton Homes among those using the strategic moat in ‘dirty’ ways.
- The Jacksonville Florida Times Union summarized the connection between the John Oliver viral hit video dubbed “Mobile Homes,” MHI, Clayton Homes, and their related lenders. That op-ed was first fact-checked by an editor, before it was published not only in the one newspaper it was submitted, but at least in 5 Florida newspapers.
The list could go on, but let’s sum up to this point. Only MHLivingNews and MHProNews have publicly laid out the documentation for how these monopolistic schemes were purportedly being accomplished in manufactured housing. Again, two of several possible key links are here and here.
As useful as mainstream media reports have been – and some have been utilized, as the links herein reflect – mainstream journalists won’t be able to focus for years on end on a single topic. We can, have, and do continually follow the evidence. That plus decades of first-hand industry expertise are advantages. Plus, input from scores of industry pros have helped forge an understanding that has withstood several tests.
Not everyone at MHI now or previously are fans of the organization, so our sources include insiders who are keeping a low profile for their own reasons.
Recast, there’s plenty of evidence, from several sources, inside and outside of manufactured housing, that points to the problematic trends and issues.
What we’ve brought to the table was specific documents, videos, and insider industry insights. We’ve also curated and organized facts in reports like this one, so that outsiders looking in can begin to understand the pertinent query, how is it possible that manufactured housing is underperforming during an affordable housing crisis? How can it underperform with Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway behind some of the industry’s biggest firms? A plausible conclusion is that the goal IS to underperform. Wouldn’t that allow the industry to be consolidated at a discount, slowly, in a way that escapes typical regulatory oversight? Watch the brief video clip from MHI president Dick Jennison further below. In hindsight, it speaks volumes.
Which brings us back to why would MHI fail to make their best arguments to the public, per their own claims and 990 filings? Let’s turn to a few MHI members, past and present, to see what they’ve said publicly.
Frank Rolfe has sparked his own controversies, one of which we documented and responded to at this link below. Once more, we note this because it is a fact, and it is to reflect that we follow the evidence without favor as to the source.
Sensationalistic ‘Cold Hard Lessons of Mobile Home U’ New York Times article by Gary Rivlin draws Manufactured Home Industry Ire, Desire and Fire
That noted, Rolfe claimed that MHI failed to either defend the industry, or to properly promote it.
For years, Marty Lavin – an MHI award-winner and a long-time industry success story – in live talks or in writing – would say the following.
More recently, in 2018 he said the following to MHProNews.
Ouch. That’s direct.
That was framed in the context of ‘big boy’ firms using MHI to consolidate the industry. No objections to that usage from Lavin.
A hot issue for years has been financing in manufactured housing.
On our professional site, an in depth analysis has been made that first notes that MHI, Clayton Homes, and 21st Mortgage backed the Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act (Preserving Access), which never passed. It then makes the point that there is substantial evidence that it was not possible that it would pass during the Obama administration. Consider what an MHI SVP said in 2012.
The following is not to be construed as political or partisan, it is factual.
> Berkshire Chairman Warren Buffett backed Barack Obama’s candidacy twice.
> Former President Obama vowed to veto any change to Dodd-Frank.
> Buffett backed Secretary Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
> She similarly pledged opposing changes ‘weakening’ Dodd-Frank.
That begs several questions.
- Why did then-MHI Chairman Tim Williams – President of Berkshire-owned 21st – spend several years and millions pursing Preserving Access when it was doomed to fail?
- Why did Williams’ back a bill his boss Buffett effectively opposed?
- Why did Nathan Smith of SSK Communities, the prior chairman to Williams at MHI, back the opposition presidential candidate to Preserving Access?
Hold those thoughts. Note too that we respect the right of people to vote for or support whomever. But it is questionable at best when Buffett is backing candidates that are working in regulatory ways that harmed the manufactured home industry, and then MHI postured mitigation doomed to fail. As that MHEC member said, that’s “association malpractice.”
Near the heart of any big-ticket sales is financing. Cars, RVs, boats, and housing all require ready access to financing in order to maintain sales levels. In the aftermath of the 2008 housing/mortgage financial crisis, conventional housing values plunged because lending wasn’t easily available.
That same principle holds for manufactured homes. There must be substantial lending options, or the market won’t perform as well as it could or should. There are laws on the books, such as the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 (HERA) that mandated that manufactured homes be given Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) and other federal support under a provision known as the ‘Duty to Serve.’
But nearly a decade later, MHARR president Mark Weiss, JD, said the following.
The law was not being enforced. There are several indications that DTS was being undermined, by big boy forces within the industry.
Weiss later added this comment.
There is ample evidence to back that up, starting with the Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) themselves. An MHI member said in an interview with MHProNews the following.
Tim Williams, then Chairman of MHI as well as president and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway owned 21st Mortgage said in an interview with MHProNews that DTS was a “waste of time.” Really? For whom?
Later, Paul Barretto with Fannie Mae told an audience of manufactured housing professionals in Tunica, MS that neither 21st nor Berkshire Hathaway owned VMF turned over any data that the GSEs asked for in order to help them make prudential loans on manufactured homes. Other manufactured home industry lenders did so. Why not those owned by Berkshire Hathaway?
21st’s Williams said similarly in a meeting with a few dozen MHI members in the room, that he did not turn over data to the GSEs. This writer was in that meeting room when Williams said so.
- So, how could MHI or the Berkshire brands honestly be claiming to work for more lending, when their own chairman and largest lenders were working against that increased outside lending in practical ways?
Points like those could be made for hours and days on end.
But those are sufficient for a reasonable person to wonder, what is going on? Was MHI working to improve lending? Or were they de facto working to protect the market stranglehold that Berkshire owned 21st and VMF had? And was Preserving Access merely a “rope-a-dope” style ploy, that they knew would go nowhere?
To add to the vexing facts are these third-party documented points. Warren Buffett has donated to the Novo Foundation, which in turn gave millions of dollars to the Tides, a non-profit group.
- The Tides in turn donated money to MHAction, among others.
- MHAction disrupted and protested at the Secretary Carson MHI event in Las Vegas in 2018.
- MHAction, in conjunction with two other nonprofits, published the white paper that was a key feature of the viral hit video on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, errantly named “Mobile Homes.”
- Per third-party sources, Buffett’s support has also flowed to the Center for Public Integrity, CFED (later rebranded as Prosperity Now), and other nonprofits that have similarly battled manufactured housing industry firms and efforts, including Preserving Access.
- When we first published these facts, the footer of the MHAction website noted the Advocacy Fund. Today, that same footer reflects the Tides – the NoVo Foundation supported group, noted above – instead.
Buffett led Berkshire’s brands purportedly dominate MHI financially, through the association’s executive committee, and via other means. Buffett’s donations and support have also fueled the resistance to the manufactured housing industry’s access to lending efforts, plus attacked the industry’s public image, and more.
Rephrased, Buffett’s money has backed both sides of the fight over manufactured housing. Why?
There are certainly many possible arguments to be made.
But as noted, one reasonable one is that by wearing out marginal industry companies with seemingly endless battles, a kind of manufactured housing ‘rope-a-dope’ caused some independents that hadn’t already failed after the 2010 21st letters noted above to fold later on. It’s a pattern that the Atlantic both outlined and predicted.
Let’s provide a few more links and sum up what all of this means.
Manufactured homes are the most proven form of permeant affordable housing.
According to research cited in the report linked below, the aggregate economic harm done to the U.S. caused by the lack of affordable housing near where it is needed is some $2 trillion dollars a year.
The most proven form of affordable housing is modern manufactured homes, but they have long been misunderstood, despite the evidence in their favor.
FEAR, a Solution to the Affordable Housing Crisis, and the Manufactured Home Dilemma
Secretary Carson’s address on the topic is insightful, and linked here. It sums up succinctly much of the research done over the last 20 years.
Those facts obliquely reflect a similar problem.
Clayton Homes’ parent company owned in 2018 – when this linked information was compiled – some 31 newspapers –- the BH Media Group. Kevin Clayton said himself in video interview posted at the link here that “Warren” told him there was ‘plenty of money’ to do whatever he needed. They had the media and the money to promote seriously and effectively, but did not do so, as the shipment data proves. What they have done can best be described as a fig leaf, or a head fake.
To sincerely think that Clayton and MHI couldn’t do better promoting manufactured housing that what has occurred in the past 15 years is absurd. RVs were outsold by MH 3 to 2 in 1998. By 2018, RVs outsold MH by 5 to 1. RVs promoted their industry successfully. Are we to think that manufactured housing couldn’t do the same?
Which leads to this notion. What the Omaha-Knoxville-Arlington axis and their allies are and have been doing – noting that there are videos and items they can point to in their own defense – is clearly less effective than the seemingly routine barrage of negative media. That negative media includes items like the Washington Post reports linked here and here, or the viral John Oliver hit video, once more found posted here along with our fact check. The Seattle Times report that attacked Clayton was co-authored by a journalist for the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).
CPI has Buffett fingerprints on it too.
Kevin Clayton was arguably understating when he said to CNBC that Berkshire’s plan to dominate housing was a 100-year plan. Buffett or his successors at Berkshire need only wait until he has a favorable alignment in Congress and the White House come to power so they can advance their market share in manufactured housing well beyond where it is today, which is some 48-50 percent.
When Berkshire bought Clayton in 2003, it was only 13 percent.
It is up to federal investigators, elected and appointed public officials, and perhaps private antitrust attorneys to dig into these various issues to build a case ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ But there is plenty of evidence that the market has been manipulated.
There is evidence that the manipulation and corruption are ongoing. That hurts real Americans, investors, as well as independent businesses.
That evidence points to not only Berkshire Hathaway brands in manufactured housing, but also to MHI and their leaders. It should be noted that 3 out of 3 of past and previous MHI’s chairmen have had legal clouds over their heads. It isn’t as if the organization – even by that appearance – comes off as squeaky clean.
The purpose for underperforming now can be summed up in the video interview with award-winning Alan Amy. Amy said that manufactured housing are the ‘homes of the future.’ The billionaires are buying into the industry now, at discounted prices, because they see that future coming too.
The truth is hiding in plain sight. But the truth has arguably been artificially obscured, by failing to defend and promote the industry properly, and by ‘dark money’ Buffett bucks apparently paying to attack the industry via groups like MHAction, Prosperity Now, or CPI. It’s a puzzle of a shockingly Machiavellian scheme, but the truth can be stranger than fiction.
By obscuring the truth about manufactured homes through a series of ongoing scandals and failing to defend the industry as needed, the powers that be in MHVille arguably keep the public largely in the dark. Meanwhile, they get to keep consolidating the industry in ways that escape the notice of federal regulators.
Berkshire machinations arguably includes Buffett’s minions deploying ‘Castle and Moat’ ‘sharks in the waters’ tactics in manufactured housing. Complex:
- tax codes,
- regulations, or
- cutting off or limiting capital access,
- zoning/placement issues, and
- stirring up negative media,
are all more difficult for smaller firms to navigate than a larger one with deeper pockets.
That there are federal investigations already underway into various allegations against Clayton that are known by this MHLivingNews’ writer, because I’ve spoken to a number of federal officials involved doing those investigations.
While they don’t mention antitrust, the evidence of federal investigations into Clayton and their sister brands in finance are further evidenced by a Knoxville hometown news video, posted above. If their hometown metro media covered those concerns, doesn’t that speak volumes?
Having said all that, ponder these pull-quotes from Secretary Carson’s recent analysis and prescription.
- “The financial optimism of everyday Americans has surged to an 18-year high, and is nearing an all-time record. For those families who have access to affordable housing, they are facing their bright futures with confidence.”
- “And yet a serious challenge still persists: millions of hardworking Americans who seek affordable rents or sustainable homeownership simply cannot get their foot in the door. We have reached the point where many of our nation’s teachers, nurses, police officers, and firefighters struggle to live in or around the communities they serve.”
- “Today, I’d like to share HUD’s current vision for how we are diagnosing affordable housing challenges, and how manufactured housing is an active ingredient in the medication we are prescribing for a stronger America.”
- “Our nation’s shortage of affordable housing is ultimately an issue of supply and demand. With millions of people in need, high demand is already guaranteed. That’s why HUD has focused our strategy on increasing supply – namely, by promoting initiatives, programs, techniques, and technologies that produce more affordable homes.”
- “Since the key constraint on supply is the cost of new construction and development, the solution to the problem is to change the cost side of the equation.”
- “Manufactured housing has emerged out of the limestone and stepped into the limelight, to address precisely this need.”
Given a premise that Omaha-Knoxville-Arlington are trying to temporarily suppress the industry, in order to dominate it slowly and acquire firms at a discount, can one see how these positive talking points about the industry by Secretary Carson are nevertheless not useful for the powers-that-be in the short run? If one accepts the evidence that Clayton, their lenders, MHI and some ‘big boys’ are giving fig leaf promotions while stirring up more negative news than positive, having the industry “emerged” out of the darkness of limestone and “into the limelight” is the opposite of what those schemers may want today.
Secretary Carson’s prescription is a good one for America. But will those inside the industry, who allegedly are thwarting growth at present, be allowed to continue to do so? Will they be allowed to bury good news and comments, like Carson’s?
What leading association president would have said what MHI’s Dick Jennison did in the video below?
MHI’s president’s statement in the video above was outrageous on its face. Jennison argued for slow growth? During a downturn and affordable housing crisis? Well, Jennison got slow growth. Coincidence? Or was it the goal?
But that is just one of several reasons why Jennison should be considered for perjury charges, based upon the IRS 990 filing above.
Fraud, various examples of a misuse of the U.S. Mail, misuse of the wires (internet, phone), thinly veiled threats that amount to extortion, deceptive trade practices, and RICO – not to mention antitrust – are among the criminal/civil complaints that ought to be seriously examined against Clayton, 21st, Berkshire Hathaway, MHI and perhaps some other ‘big boy’ brands. Congress, other federal, and perhaps state agencies too need to examine these concerns.
The harm is so expansive to so many, it may be one of the biggest schemes of its kind.
Indeed, several law firms are already examining Cavco Industries for securities violations that harmed shareholders. Cavco’s former Chairman is still MHI’s Chairman, Joe Stegmayer. Stegmayer once was a Clayton Homes Division president.
Yes, for those who don’t yet grasp this complex web, we are strongly opposed to manufactured home industry ‘unity’ under such diabolical means. Which is why while some readers furrow their brows, but thousands of others in the industry are thanking us.
What makes this hard for MHI and their big boys to shake is that they previously praised us and our pro-industry, pro-growth work for years. They praised us right up to the point that we began asking too many questions they no longer wanted to answer.
Tim Williams said it himself.
There is a good argument that MHI or the ‘big boys’ should debunk every false claim. They have failed to do so for year after year. They can’t claim ignorance, can they? The industry has consolidated into ever fewer hands.
For the majority of Americans, but most particularly for renters, mobile and manufactured homeowners – this is costing you and taxpayers dearly.
Is it time for Congressional and other investigations into these concerns?
We think, there is more than enough evidence that suggests that the answer is yes. Once more, Clayton, 21st, MHI leaders and their attorneys have been given several documented opportunities to respond to these concerns, and they have chosen to remain silent. Let’s see what’s next… “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (Lifestyle news, commentary, fact-checks, and analysis.)
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L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach is co-founder of MHLivingNews, MHProNews, and is a 25 plus year award-winning manufactured home industry professional. Kovach earned the Lottinville award in history at the University of Oklahoma.
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