Kurt Kelley, JD, is the publisher of the Manufactured Housing Review (MHR), as the below reflects in his quarterly’s “Publisher’s Message.” For the 2019 Quarter 1 issue, his message read in part as follows.
“…We also [in this issue] address Senator Elizabeth Warren’s attempt to gather private information from Manufactured Home Community owners. New things surprise us each day, and the political world certainly is trending wackier, but it is a bad day when a government representative from another state demands your private business information.”
In the same issue of MHR, is a column by Joanne Stevens. Stevens, it should be noted, works for a company that is now owned by Berkshire Hathaway. Keep that thought in mind as you read what follows. Here is Steven’s headline:
“We Are Trending: Be Prepared with MHP Talking Points for Local, State, and Federal Legislators”
Her column opens like this.
“April 2019 might very well take the prize for mobile home park reporting in Iowa. In the space of a few weeks, there has been multiple newspaper, TV reports, social media posts, and new Facebook groups, all of who, are weighing in on rent increases from new mobile home park owners. What has happened in Iowa, has happened before and could happen anywhere. Several parks were sold (almost simultaneously). The new owners bought the parks because the lot rents were averaging $200 below market. Upon closing, the MHP residents received the standard state mandated 60-day notice for a rent increase, a significant one but still under the market rent.”
Let’s note, but not address in depth today, Stevens problematic terminology for the phrase, “mobile home park” – noting that no mobile homes have been built in the U.S. since June 15, 1976, something Joanne Stevens, an apparently nice lady I’ve personally met and known for years, should know.
What her column doesn’t say is that she was reportedly involved in some of those transactions where family owned businesses where sold to larger companies that then swiftly announced high site fee (site rent for manufactured homes) increases. How were those residents, many there for years, supposed to anticipate that change?
One of those commercial real estate transactions involved Havenpark Capital, which on the Manufactured Housing Institute website is shown as a member under the name of Havenpark Management. Here is a mainstream news video about one of those controversies.
Stevens mentions the viral attack video produced by HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver errantly named “Mobile Homes.” That Oliver video we posted and previously covered in depth at this link here.
What Stevens and Kelley don’t mention is this. There seems to be a clear connection between every one of those firms that were shown by Oliver’s video that he says behave in such a predatory fashion. That connection? The Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI). Additionally, the companies addressed by Senator Warren in the letter linked here also seem to have clear ties to MHI.
Clayton Homes and their affiliated lenders, Frank Rolfe, Nathan Smith, others noted in Oliver’s video all have apparent ties to MHI, including but not necessarily limited to MHI membership. See two examples, posted below.
Are those examples of black hat behavior?
That’s not to imply that every MHI member company wears a metaphorical black hat. It is to state the apparent reality of the connection between numbers of black hat firms and MHI, noting in fairness that there are white hat people among those purported black hats at MHI.
Given that MHI ought to have a standard of ethical practices, it begs the question, what is that standard? When is MHI willing to call out, publicly if necessary, one of their own members for apparently problematic or even illegal behavior that openly embarrasses that organization and the industry?
Next, Stevens in her MHR article then said what ought to make every fan of MHI cringe.
“Naturally, some of the tenants called City Hall, the newspapers, and State & Federal legislators. What happened next is a commentary on how woefully unprepared the MH & MHP Industry is to make the case for the essential role mobile homes & parks provide in the low-cost housing landscape. Tenants, the media and legislators unleashed their outrage against rent increases and MHP owners.”
Whose job is it to reply to unfavorable media? Isn’t that part of why MHI hired a media relations professional some years ago? Doesn’t MHI claim to represent all segments of the factory-built housing industry? Why is it that MHI is – using Steven’s phrase – “woefully unprepared”?
It is any surprise that with such a steady stream of bad news about manufactured housing that even during an affordable housing crisis, that the industry is into month number 8 of a downturn?
Let’s now look at another article, the one that Kelley referenced in his publisher’s message, cited above. The entire article as written is between their header and the screen capture of the page. It will be reviewed further below.
In a letter dated May 28th, 2019 and directed to multiple manufactured home community (MHC) portfolio owners, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren alleges that larger MHC portfolio owners are raising rents to the detriment of MHC tenants. The letter states,
“Investment Companies are attracted to MHC’s, in large part, because MHC’s are a ‘stable source(s) of revenue, including during economic downturns. This stability stems from residents’ lack of economic mobility…. MHC residents’ lack of economic mobility also makes them vulnerable to exploitation – and investment firms often engage in predatory management practices that boost profits at the expense of manufactured home owners.”
Warren’s letter goes on to allege the following about MHC tenants, “Unable to afford moving, and unable to sell their manufactured homes, some residents report that they are forced to choose between paying for increased housing costs and … food, medicine…” Warren doesn’t acknowledge in her letter that every MHC tenant chose to live in an MHC over every other housing option they had, that far less MHC living is not government subsidized versus apartment living, nor does she cite even one example of any tenant forced to live in an MHC.
The letter from Warren goes on to demand intimate private business information about the MHC owners’ operations and financial statements. Such information requested includes:
- # of home sites,
• # occupied home sites,
• # residents, median income of residents,
• average lot rents prior to acquisition and after acquisition,
• # times rents were raised,
• rationale for raising rents,
• # tenants evicted, total rent collected for the past five years,
• total fees collected for the past five years,
• copies of tenant behavioral restrictions (aka park rules),
• and list of profits reported for each owned community.
Warren’s letter is not limited in distribution to either MHC’s owned in Massachusetts or owners who reside in Massachusetts. While no law prevents Warren from asking for this private information, it’s equally true that no law requires any owner to provide her with the requested information even though she signed the letter in her capacity as “United States Senator.” Possibly the best course of action in answering such an inquiry for private information is to refer it to your home state Senator(s).
While giving lip service over the years to the benefits of a Capitalistic Economic System, many of Warren’s actions reveal hostility toward such. This is in spite of those states with fewer land use restrictions and rent control laws having lower rents and better affordable housing availability than those states with more land use restrictions and rent control laws. As of the writing of this column, the Manufactured Housing Review staff has received no comment from any of the MHC owners to whom the letter was directed whether they intend to reply, and if so, to what extent. Warren concludes her note with a demand to receive the requested information by June 18th, 2019. ##
Now, that article above has Kelley’s fingerprints on it. At a minimum, Kelley okayed it, but let’s keep in mind that he is an attorney, and likely helped write it.
Kurt Kelley and Frank Rolfe, who contributes to the MHR, have clear ties. Rolfe and his partner Dave Reynolds have also criticized MHI, but they are nevertheless members.
The quote below is from the pair earlier this month.
So, even if obliquely:
- Frank and Dave slammed MHI this month and previously.
- Joanne Stevens slammed MHI this month.
- They each have ties to Berkshire Hathaway.
A few more points before drawing to a close.
Part of the email that provided me with this month’s MHR issue includes this sentence: “This is an inclusive publication for everyone in the MH sector, and we appreciate any concepts for improving the magazine.”
Kurt wrote me early on when his publication launched, asking for my involvement with MHR.
So, some weeks ago I personally sent Kurt Kelley a copy of the article linked below and asked him to publish it in MHR. He acknowledged my message and the article. They apparently opted not to publish it. Why not? Would it prove too embarrassing for MHI and the Berkshire Hathaway owned brands? Read the article, watch the video, and you decide how “inclusive” MHR actually is.
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What Will Senator Warren Say or Do?
While we have told Senator Warren’s campaign and office that we disagree with her on specific issues, we believe she and several of her Senate colleagues are correct in arguing for investigations of Clayton Homes and their affiliated lenders.
Warren is a rising star among Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls. Readers should bear in mind that MHLivingNews believes that affordable housing and manufactured homes are bipartisan or nonpartisan issues.
Senator Warren is, like Kurt Kelley, an attorney. She may be laying the foundation with those letters mentioned by MHReview for public hearings about problematic behavior inside of the manufactured housing industry. While Kelley’s MHR headline above is arguably hyperbole, it seems he sees that possibility too. Indeed, isn’t that what Stevens seems to fear? Why else does she advise that communities need ‘talking points’ for lawmakers?
That protest against Havenpark posted in the video above and others like it in other parts of the country against other companies – several of which have ties to MHI – received letters from Senator Warren linked here.
With those points made, we hereby urge Senator Warren and others in Congress to call for and hold public hearings as rapidly as possible about the problems inside the manufactured housing industry that cause these negative news items.
With all due respect to Joanne Stevens, Kurt Kelley and MHR, it isn’t talking points that are needed by companies like Havenpark. Rather, isn’t it good behavior that treats people fairly, ethically, and within the bounds of the law that is needed? In fairness to Havenpark, who has been asked for comments, their letter of response to Senator Warren is linked here. We’ll fact-check it another time.
So, Congress should be urged to hold hearings that includes supporter and critics of the purported black hat behavior of MHI member companies, and MHI itself.
Senator Warren, Breaking Up…
We agree with Senator Warren in principle that existing antitrust law could be used to break up certain companies legally. Why not publicly investigate in Senate hearings the parent company of Clayton Homes, 21st Mortgage – the Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate? Why not use such hearings to develop the possible case for antitrust? The argument for antitrust against Berkshire and their MHI brands is laid out with evidence linked here.
Senator Warren’s arguments for using existing antitrust law are laid out in our prior report, linked below.
We are also hereby calling on Senator Warren and/or her campaign to respond to these items from MHReview. We will plan to report what her office and campaign say or do, either way.
We also are reiterating a call for Senate and House hearings on challenges inside the manufactured housing industry. Those hearings should make a bright-line distinction between white hats and black hats in that process. Because to this extent, Kelley is correct – there should be no question about what Warren believes about free enterprise or not. If she does instigate hearings, holding bad actors to account is fair game, because bad actors hurt the industry at large as well as consumers. But then, Senator Warren should protect the white hats that are arguably being harmed by black hat behavior. Fair is fair.
Manufactured housing is necessary as HUD Secretary Ben Carson and former Secretary Julian Castro have both said.
But there is a pattern emerging. That pattern is this. A relatively few, but often large and powerful organizations and companies, are responsible for the bulk of the bad news that is sparked in manufactured housing. We believe that the black hats in MHVille should be held publicly accountable.
If bad actors have broken laws, let them pay the legal price. If MHI is so innocent, let them clear their name. We’ve asked them and their outside attorney to comment on this column.
Finally, Kurt, you must decide. Will you will kiss the derriere of MHI and the big boys of our industry in toady fashion? Or do you truly want to see the industry shed its problematic image problems that caused you to focus on negative news that some – not all – of your own writers have clear connections to?
What say you, sir? “We Provide, You Decide.” © ## (LifeStyle News, reports, analysis, fact-checks, and commentary. All third-party images and content are provided under fair use guidelines for media.)
L. A. ‘Tony’ Kovach is co-founder of MHLivingNews and MHProNews. He is a highly acclaimed industry expert and consultant, a managing member of LifeStyle Factory Homes, LLC, 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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