“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and
I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
– Abraham Lincoln.
Preface before addressing the headline issues: Steve McDonald reminds us in the intriguing lyrics from the title song of Sons of Somerled that there’s been times when the sword is mightier than pen. Today, sometimes money seems to outweigh pen and sword, although Jeb Bush’s Super PAC learned the hard way in 2016 that it isn’t always so.
Whether you liked, disliked or were meh toward Bush and his family, that reminder that money doesn’t always win out is useful.
Before diving into this report, for newcomers learning about manufactured homes for the first time, let’s state the obvious. In every industry, in every profession, there are good and bad actors – sometimes called ‘white hats’ and ‘black hats.’ You can have a black hat operation that has white hat people in it.
This report will focus on problematic behavior impacting manufactured home resident and those that seek affordable housing.
To give some balance, and to help shoppers as well as others to navigate past ‘black hats’ to find ‘white hats,’ see the reports linked here as a cautionary tale and one below to remind people that often independent locally owned businesses are good to work with.
You can also have problematic people or organizations say or do things that are demonstrably true or insightful. Thus, quoting a person or source here should not be construed as some blanket endorsement. Indeed, sometimes the quote is meant to illustrate the disconnect between what someone says and what they do or the outcome of that behavior. Since none of us are perfect, this writer included, it is useful to apply the wise principle of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Against that backdrop, let’s press ahead to the headline subjects.
Giant manufactured home community owner RHP Properties is listed by the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) National Communities Council (NCC) April 2018 media release as the #3 community operator in the U.S. in total number of homesites. That arguably means a measure of clout with that Arlington, VA based trade group. In a May 13, 2019 media release, RHP described themselves as “RHP Properties, the nation’s largest privately held owner and operator of manufactured home communities…”
The firm uses private equity rather than turning to the stock market for investors. In fact, they are one of several growing ‘consolidators’ of manufactured home land-lease communities that was spotlighted by the Private Equity Stakeholder report that named several companies, which routinely are connected to the Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI).
The coalition of nonprofits that cooperated in in the Private Equity Stakeholder’s issued a white paper entitled “Private equity giants converge on manufactured homes: How private equity is manufacturing homelessness & communities are fighting back.” A download of their Feb 14, 2019 report which led to coverage by the Washington Post and HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver errantly named viral video “Mobile Homes” is linked here or from the report’s name above.
With that backdrop, the Orange County Post was among local media that reported that residents of Silver Stream Village manufactured home community that turned to New York State Senator James Skoufis (D-Hudson Valley) for help battling a rent increase.
Earlier this year, New York State enacted rent control measures that applied to manufactured home communities. Despite the laws provisions, RHP sent their residents at Silver Stream a letter increasing site fees (a.k.a. ‘lot rent’) by some 6% over last year. State law RPL § 233-b states that rent increases “may not exceed 3% above existing rents unless the manufactured home park owner experienced increases in operating expenses, property taxes on the park, or costs from capital improvements in the park.”
Skoufis called RHP’s action unlawful and illegal.
RHP countered by saying that the new rent control law was on their side.
Local media and then our MHProNews professionals’ sister site spotlighted the matter. After the controversy and push-back erupted, RHP has now backed down. Per Mid-Hudson News on December 14:
- Skoufis (D, Woodbury) announced that he has reached an agreement with RHP Properties on behalf of residents of Silver Steam Village Manufactured Home Community in New Windsor regarding New York State’s Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act.
- The company will now only increase rent by 3.0 percent, as compared to their previously proposed 5.3 percent.
While that is welcome news for residents, the pattern has become all too familiar, hasn’t it?
An MHI member company is often associated with purported black hat or predatory behavior in manufactured housing.
As examples, ponder reports like those linked above and below that include Clayton Homes, Havenpark Capital or “Frank and Dave.”
RHP’s image with Glass Door isn’t the best. In fairness, they have a good rating with the Better Business Bureau at this time.
But the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has intervened in prior cases involving RHP in prior matters. See the case linked here.
But all that begs questions. Is ‘rent control’ – which residents that face stiff hikes often call for – actually going to work absent additional market and legally driven solutions?
If you look at Canada, the answer may not be the one that proponents want to see or hear.
CBC News said, “The province’s new rent controls will be a boon for renters, at least in the short term. But in the long-run the rules may have the opposite effect.”
Manufactured home specific videos spell out parts of the dynamics at play.
But what these reports point directly or indirectly point to is a factor that MHLivingNews and our MHProNews sister site have stated for years. Namely, that there has to be new construction – new developments. Note that the terminology ‘trailer’ or ‘trailer park’ or mobile home shouldn’t be used with respect to manufactured homes on either side of the border.
What residents, advocates, public officials and other of good will must grasp is this reality. At best, rent control is a band aid. It has to be supported by other activities that lead to more affordable housing options, which includes developing or accessing more home sites for current and potential manufactured homeowners.
People like prominent MHI members “Frank and Dave” give the big clue that they DON’T want more developing.
Perhaps well meaning, but nevertheless mistaken are those who advocate merely building more public housing supported by taxpayers. First, as bipartisan lawmakers who studied affordable housing discovered, manufactured homes and communities cost less to develop and less to redevelop.
Ironically, the solutions that could make that possible here in the U.S. already exist. There are federal programs and laws in place that would make developing new communities, overcoming NIMBY or other resistance are already law. Indeed, they have been for years. Some of those legal provisions and potential programs include, but are not limited to, the following.
- Duty to Serve (DTS) Manufactured Homes, Affordable Housing Preservation and underserved Rural markets. See the 5 page PowerPoint linked here, plus the report linked below.
- Full enforcement of the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act (MHIA) of 2000, with its “enhanced preemption” provision.
William “Bill” Matchneer, J.D. was the first non-career Administrator for the program. Matchneer has praised manufactured homes, but has said several times that he knows that the enhanced preemption provision of federal law isn’t being properly enforced. Here’s how he said it recently.
The importance of this issue is spelled out step-by-step by an attorney that was involved in drafting the language that went into the law.
As resident leaders like Tim Sheahan and Robert ‘Bob’ Van Cleef have said, when new developing is occurring, that’s a free market check on excessive rent increases. That’s arguably why people like Frank and Dave don’t want more developing, it keeps their residents ‘captive.’ The solution logically is to ignore the desires of prominent MHI members that by accident or design are trying to divert, deter and limit new construction for their own selfish reasons.
How can that be accomplished?
Again, existing laws and programs make it possible.
- There are federal programs that would make developing new manufactured home communities with favorable terms quite cost effective. They could be done for a variety of opportunities, including single-family ownership, for rental housing, or possibly for ‘resident owned’ communities.
- Duty to Serve (FHFA) and HUD both play roles in that, which begs the question, why aren’t they making it more available?
Documents sent as a news tip to this publication recently reveals that MHI and MHARR once worked closely together at implementing good laws. The MHI document below, per our source, was once on their website. Not anymore. Why not?
MHI once de facto showed respect for MHARR’s work, as the last part of the article – also now missing from MHI’s website – reflects.
Other Relevant Facts
As this writer said to the faces of officials in Washington, D.C. on 12.2.2019, it is disgraceful that FHFA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and MHI have apparently colluded to divert and pervert good laws. Once again on 12.11.2019, that point was made in a virtual listening session. See that 5-page PowerPoint linked here.
MHProNews asked officials at FHFA, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and MHI why there was no mainstream media promotion of the listening sessions?
Silence. Indeed, even on the virtual listening session Q&A, FHFA abruptly ended the call rather than answer the questions shown below.
Put differently, the argument can be made that there are officials are de facto or directly colluding with certain organizations in a fashion that benefits a few firms while harming the many.
That harms millions.
So, there are laws on the books that if robustly applied could solve these issues. They are being thwarted. The upshot of non-enforcement is that the industry’s consolidation continues.
What must happen to change that dynamic?
The Plan to End the Stranglehold?
These issues are not new. They’ve gone on for over 10 to almost 20 years, when it comes to failure to properly implement DTS and “enhanced preemption” from the MHIA 2000. As Van Cleef said, it is insanity to keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
So, slow down. Sharpen the axe. Understand the challenges and the solutions. Read and view items like those shown until you understand it with clarity. Even as it is sinking in, you are in a position to pass items like these along to others.
- Understand the problems and the available cures.
- Educate and expose the possible solutions.
- Hold those public officials to account who fail to enforce good existing laws.
- Use legally available resources to force accountability.
- Engage with the mainstream media to press on the above.
- Repeat as often as necessary until good laws are enforced.
Let’s make some specific examples of that outline.
- Contact your elected officials. If possible, do it in conjunction with others, but doing it yourself is fine too. Share articles like this, and ask them to have staff dig in to understand and focus on solutions, not band aids.
- Where possible law-breaking occurs, at the state and federal levels there are accountability resources. Don’t abuse it, but if you suspect laws are not being enforced, contact – for example, at the federal level – the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the agency involved. Name names. Give evidence or link up relevant reports like this you’ve read online. As an insight, we’ve done and are doing these steps ourselves. We can report that at one three letter agency, at least one, possible two people were terminated and/or left in the wake of complaints to an OIG.
- Write letters to your editor. Understand the rules for writing a letter to the editor, then write a well-crafted letter. Even though we are publishers and have our own audiences, I’ve done this step personally too. A recent example is shown below. I sent this to only one newspaper, but they published it in several all over the state of Florida.
Under the News tab in Google at 12.18.2019 are the following 9 linked articles that provide a 200 word executive summary that provide strong clues. Pick one, check it out. Pass it on.
Jacksonville, FL – The Florida Times-Union
2 day ago – 12.17.2019
2 day ago – 12.17.2019
2 day ago – 12.17.2019
2 day ago – 12.17.2019
Google “Warren Buffett,” “castle,” “moat,” “affordable housing” in the “image” or … The Nation, GuruFocus, MHLivingNews and MHProNews are among media with specific articles. They allege “the moat” is unethical if not illegal. Which begs the question: who at the state and federal levels are investigating?
2 day ago – 12.17.2019
Keep in mind that our vision at MHProNews is that the apparent problems, properly understood, are opportunities in disguise.
This all comes down to understanding the issues, shining the light on problems, explaining the solutions and enforcing existing laws. See the related reports above and below.
As Soheyla, others and myself have said for years, nothing is changed until it is challenged. We started with a the notion that the pen and the correct protest can be mighty. Persistent writing and protests are not only Constitutionally protected rights, they can work. The more that’s done going into an election year, the better.
To learn more, see the related reports below. “We Provide, You Decide.” © (Manufactured homes, lifestyle news, reports, fact-checks, analysis, and commentary. Third-party images or content are provided under fair use guidelines for media.)
(See Related Reports, further below. Text/image boxes often are hot-linked to other reports that can be access by clicking on them.)
By L.A. “Tony” Kovach – for MHLivingNews.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. This article reflects the LLC’s and/or the writer’s position, and may or may not reflect the views of sponsors or supporters.
Connect on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/latonykovach
The text/image boxes below are linked to other reports, which can be accessed by clicking on them.