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Posts Tagged ‘Alabama’

Rent Control in MHCs

September 4th, 2013 1 comment

Tony,

The phone rang one morning and a young man returned my call to him, we'd been playing phone tag. I had left a message with his wife in Oregon earlier, and he was calling about two Vermont MH communities I have listed for sale. From the voice of each, I guessed they were both far younger than I.

Speaking with him, as I answered his questions, it was obvious this was not his first call on LLCs for sale. In a knowledgeable way he wound thru the obvious questions, finally asking whether Vermont LLCs are rent controlled. Yes, I explained, they are. I went on to explain Vermont allows CPI, about 3% annually presently, without concern, and a big one, allows provable capital improvements in addition, annually. I told him that as a former VT LLC owner I had found the scheme fully workable, as do many of my contemporaries.

The next day I got an email message saying he and his partner/wife had decided not to invest in any locale where rent control is in force. OK, I get it, but that removes quite a swath of locales, many which are hot purchase markets. This philosophy allows investment in say Mississippi or Alabama, but negates purchases in Florida or much of California. Oh…

After that, my mind wondered over my experiences of the dangers of rent control and lack of it. Yes, I said the danger of the lack of it. I actually was pretty young once, had hundreds of apartments and almost 2000 MH/RV sites. With the exception of a Florida LLC, I was in no jurisdiction where rent control was in effect. And when rent control was threatened in a jurisdiction, I was the first to the battlements opposing its imposition. I was and am a capitalist, and rent control seemed an anathema to my beliefs. I'm not alone, right?

But time went by, slowly the days passed, and some of my beliefs at 40 years of age made transition to a more measured understanding as I aged and acquired experience I previously lacked. Let me be frank, I was an accomplished and notorious rent increaser, which in my twilight years brings me no acclaim by others, and more importantly, myself.

What I found was that in apartments, and we're not speaking of New York City here, the market rents in an area kinda act as rent control. You find yourself as the top dog in rent rate for your 1000 sq. ft three bedroom apartment in your area. What you are very likely to find, as I did, your apartment rents last and less, staying empty longer than it should. Recovering the lost time and money brings you back to Earth and unless your calqy is busted, your late debt payments slap Hai Karate hard. I found apartments very self correcting as to rents.

Now, on to LLCs. We all know the reasons we invest in communities; they own the dwelling unit, they can't move the house, etc. All good stuff, of course. So as I bought LLCs from original owner/developers, I found that as longtime owners they had allowed their rents to slip behind the market, keeping their management easy, with many long term residents.

Of course, the purchase price always reflected the oft unspoken premium of raising rents to market. "Hell, they can pay a lot more than that!" So I paid more than cash flow to get the community, not real unusual, right? Then the rent increases started. Often stiff and early increases happened shortly after closing.

The first few increases were swallowed, albeit with plenty of bitching by residents. We raised rents as much in two-three years as the former owner did in 10 years. Note that in some instances the increased rent still didn't pay for the capitalized investment costs. I knew that, they only knew and cared their rent had doubled in short order. No esoteric explanations of cap rates and other MH investor jargon seemed particularly persuasive to the LLC residents.

Who was it, Newton, who theorized every action has an equal and opposite reaction? I raised rents, they moved out. And I acquired a reputation in that community as a rapacious rent increaser. And these reputations are hard to escape. I wouldn't really care that much except the reputation had a very bad impact on homesite rentals. That, I did care about.

At first I did the calculation I see many others doing. Yah, I had 100 homes at $100 per month, and even though I'm quickly down to 90 homes at $111 per month, hey, I'm getting the same money with less work and expenses. And it keeps going this way as rents increase, residents fleeing like a torrent, out the MH Paradise Estates gates, which has turned into Hell Bent Acres.  And as vacancies mount, you lose control of the community, no longer able to count on the desire to live in your LLC to keep people in line. And that desire includes pricing.

Were I the only one to have followed the raise-rents protocols, then only I would have suffered the residue, but of course, such was not the case. The MH industry's then flawed model, subsidized for years by flawed lenders, finally collapsed, dropping from 373,000 shipments in 1998, then tantalizing us into believing the hurricane-inspired 135,000 shipments of the mid 2000s was the stopping point, to the grim reality of 50,000 homes in the 2010s. Yah, I hear 60,000 homes could happen any day now.

I sat in on some very contentious MHI committees in the late 2000s era trying to formulate a chattel long term lease the GSEs could swallow. In concert with this I reviewed many LLC profiles showing monthly rent and occupancy. It probably won't surprise you that the vacancy was truly scary, yet rents occurred steeply and frequently.  I had already tried that, and even with the generous retail financing by GreenTree, CIT, The Associates, Security Pacific, Chase and their ilk, it didn't work. Now we were dealing with the GSEs, who I did not find stupid, and we were trying to equate rents in LLCs to the capitalized valuation of single family conventional real estate lots. Any thought of sharply limiting rent increases to gain long term and low rate financing being the trade-off, got serious push back. Such was not to be and by then as the effort lost all bouyancy, the GSEs woke up to far bigger challenges.

As a post script I am the very first to admit that some major figures in that committee have since come far closer to the rent restraints advocated in the long term lease effort as their stated belief for industry resuscitation.  Will that be enough? I greatly doubt it, but I sure think it is an indisputable industry wide measure in the road back to something other than Warren Buffett's table scraps.

So to my young friend in Oregon, rent control, other then confiscatory NYC apartments or some California cities in MH, can be a useful LLC owner restraint, quieting some of the early animal spirits we can all exhibit before experience shackles us. Did I like going to the rent hearings in my community in Florida and taking phallus down the throat to the gag control center? Oh, I loved it.

Still, Florida LLCs are and have long been highly prized acquisitions, not greatly injured by the relatively manageable process for raising rents.  With the relatively benign rent control such as in Florida and Vermont, you and the industry are actually protected from many of the practices employed in the industry, leading to so much push back against us.

Before you believe I'm asking you to petition your jurisdiction for rent control, let me disabuse of that notion. Nothing could be further from the truth. I rail against governmental intrusion in to my affairs daily. Everyday the beast grows larger, only a financial collapse likely to abort its growth. The only point I am making is that one must practice rental increase restraint on your own. Sometimes laws can help a process.

The flip side is that lack of restraint causes lack of residents at a time LLC vacancy nationwide forebodes another step down in industry size. In places like Vermont and Florida and others, rent control, which one should practice on their own, is instilled by statute. Perhaps not the best solution, but the record says the world did not end there.

Yes, we tell a great story which seemingly has legs of truth about our affordable housing heritage. But for whatever reason, even though its great dog food, the dogs won't eat it. Perhaps a legacy of rapacious rent increases, closing parks, high default rates and high home value depreciation could be a good place to start the industry resurgence. We build great homes, but my friends, that, by itself is not enough. ##

marty-lavin-posted-on-mhpronews(MARTIN V. LAVIN
attorney, consultant & expert witness
350 Main Street Suite 100
BURLINGTON, VERMONT 05401-3413

802-660-8888 off / 802-238-7777 cell
marty@martylavin.com

(Editor's note: The hot link was added by us, not Marty, nor was the link requested in any way by Marty. We think it is good for others to realize that while Marty is 'retired,' he is still involved in this industry and clearly cares about manufactured housing deeply. That is why he sounds off on issues, because he cares enough to raise them for discussion, thought and action.

As always, letters and articles by you or your colleagues that may agree or take other perspectives are encouraged. Send them to latonyk@gmail.com with Industry Voices Guest Column in the subject line. )

Avoiding the Perception and Reality of Discrimination

August 3rd, 2011 1 comment

In a disappointing scenario being played out in disaster-stricken communities across the nation, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policies are resulting in de facto discrimination against HUD Code manufactured housing as both temporary emergency and permanent replacement housing.  At the same time that these policies are unnecessarily complicating badly-needed relief for disaster victims, FEMA, on June 7, 2011, hosted a day-long meeting in Washington, D.C. to explore, discuss and otherwise consider the details of a possible “small footprint” temporary HUD Code emergency home design.  Given these two seemingly opposite directions, a good many HUD Code manufacturers, anxious to meet the current pressing need for post-disaster housing with the most affordable, transportable and rapidly deploy-able homes available, while facing historically low productions levels, are starting to wonder exactly what is going on.

What is “going on,” is that FEMA, facing an immediate need for both short-term emergency relief housing and permanent replacement housing in communities where the existing housing stock and infrastructure has largely been decimated, has, for now, seemingly retreated from the use of new federally-regulated HUD Code housing as a primary source of emergency housing.  Instead, displaced disaster victims have been put-up in rental housing as much as an hour away from their former homes, or in non-HUD Code modular units.  Media reports, for example, indicate that FEMA is currently constructing up to 324 three-bedroom modular homes in Kansas City, Missouri, that will be sited on city-owned land in the north part of town, for some 624 Joplin families and individuals in need of housing.

In part, this appears to be a reflection of specific policy choices by FEMA.  In a May 31, 2011 Associated Press article regarding Joplin, Missouri relief housing, a FEMA spokesperson stated, “despite the distance, putting people in permanent housing is preferable to trailers….”  Another FEMA spokesman commented  that “the agency will consider bringing trailers to Joplin if enough existing housing isn’t available.”  Consequently, FEMA policy seems to be that today’s HUD Code manufactured homes, despite serving as “permanent housing” for millions of Americans and being regulated under federal law as residential dwellings and not “trailers,” are somewhere down its list of options to house disaster victims.

In other places, like Cordova, Alabama, FEMA has failed to overrule — or even object to — local officials who have barred the placement and use of HUD Code manufactured homes as emergency relief housing based on local ordinances, even though such emergency housing is provided with federal tax dollars by a federal government that, under the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000, is supposed to “facilitate the availability of affordable manufactured homes.”  According to news reports, FEMA’s official comment on this HUD Code  housing ban affecting large numbers of displaced disaster victims, was that “it’s a local issue….”  Whether this is an outgrowth of a “second choice” policy for HUD Code housing or simply unwarranted deference to biased local officials, the result is the same — discrimination against HUD Code manufactured housing that hurts both disaster victims and the industry.

In the meantime, against this backdrop, FEMA, at its June 7, 2011 gathering, devoted an entire business day to a discussion — with industry members — of hypothetical “small footprint” one-bedroom HUD Code units that FEMA might be interested in purchasing under a “possible” future contract.  This, in turn, has led to the creation of  task forces, committees, discussion groups and the like, and meetings of those groups, to explore the particulars of such units, while, at the same time, it was apparent from the various FEMA presentations, that there is considerable confusion and disagreement, within FEMA, regarding the most basic aspects of such a unit, including: its size and configuration; its compliance with federal accessibility criteria; possible mandatory compliance with the International Residential Code; the installation and storage of such units; and the possible use of such “small footprint” homes as permanent housing.  And all this is if FEMA goes forward with such an initiative at all — with FEMA officials cautioning that nothing has yet been decided.

The bottom line for now, is that while there is the appearance of discrimination against new HUD Code manufactured housing in the field for both relief and permanent replacement housing, the industry has been left to chew over the details of a possible new opportunity that may be, could be, or might not ever be.  So, what to do?

Let there be no mistake, the industry can and should continue to work with FEMA.  The HUD Code industry has traditionally taken the lead in providing — on a quick, timely and flexible basis — safe, decent and readily deployable relief and replacement housing for disaster victims.  The industry should continue to pursue this role vigorously with FEMA at the policy level, which is why MHARR participated in the June 7, 2011 FEMA meeting and the Association has already started to follow-up on ways that the HUD Code industry can provide even more assistance to FEMA and other government agencies responsible for post-disaster relief.  The HUD Code industry already has the knowledge, know-how and experience to  provide whatever FEMA and disaster victims need.  But it must also address current FEMA policies.  Very simply, FEMA must be urged to change policies that have resulted, effectively, in discrimination against HUD Code manufactured housing and to re-commit to the use of HUD Code housing — of all types — as an equal participant in its federally-funded programs for both short-term emergency housing and permanent relief housing.

In MHARR’s view, the HUD Code industry has long been at the forefront of helping government provide both temporary relief and permanent replacement housing for victims of natural disasters, and with appropriate policies in dealing with FEMA, there is no reason why it should not continue in — and even expand — that role. # #

Danny D. Ghorbani is President of the Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform.  MHARR is a Washington, DC-based national trade association representing the views and interests of producers of federally regulated manufactured housing.  Danny can be reached at 202-783-4087.

Sherry Norris (AMHA) Reports on Alabama’s Tornado Recovery Efforts

May 13th, 2011 No comments

Editor’s Note: Following is an exclusive interview by Industry in Focus Reporter Matthew Silver with Sherry Norris in Alabama as that state recovers from the tornadoes of April 28.

In a conversation with MHMSM, Sherry Norris, Executive Director of the Alabama Manufactured Housing Association (AMHA), says the Federal Emergency Management Agency had the foresight last year to build manufactured housing units in preparation for future disasters, and stage them at Selma, Alabama.

Norris heard there are over 2,000 homes that are now in the process of being moved to the northern Alabama area where they are needed.

She says, “Some people are living in tents.  I heard of one family who was trying to build a shelter out of the debris of their home.  Those people need one of our houses ASAP.”

Congressman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), who represents District 4, where all the state’s manufactured housing plants are located, and Governor Robert Bentley, are insisting the replacement homes used for the victims of the tornadoes are from Alabama manufacturers.

FEMA has asked Norris to obtain figures from manufactured housing retailers in the state for an inventory of available homes once the units from Selma have been distributed.

Norris says the replacement homes are not the ones you might see on a retailer’s lot, but are three bedroom, one bath single sections, fully furnished and ready to be hooked to utilities.

Norris further stated FEMA is also preparing for the hurricane season, so the houses now being used will need to be replaced.  The flooding of the Mississippi may even require additional homes to be built.  # #

Sherry Norris, Executive Director of the Alabama Manufactured Housing Association (AMHA), snorris@charter.net, (334) 244-7828, www.alamha.org