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McCrory Lawsuit – “Significant Victory Against Zoning Discrimination” – Manufactured Homes

November 30th, 2017 No comments

The McCrory lawsuit is a significant victory against zoning discrimination that many working families in Arkansas face from cities and towns when they attempt to place a factory-built dwelling unit in a territorial jurisdiction governed by municipal ordinances and regulations.

Although federal regulation preempts cities from out-and-out discrimination against units built in compliance with the Federal Manufactured Home Construction and Safety Standards – the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has been hesitant to enforce the ‘enhanced preemption’ granted in the MHIA of 2000 – –  or even the Department’s own ‘preemption policy’ or statement of ‘internal guidance’ on local zoning matters.

And, even though state law in Arkansas prohibits cities from totally banning manufactured/modular home placements; restricting them only to rented lots in ‘parks’; or setting conditions/restrictions that are dissimilar to those for ‘site-built units’ – a number of cities still attempt to unduly restrict MH placements due to unsubstantiated fears of plummeting property values and ‘undesirables’ that their decisions-makers fear will inhabit such domiciles.

ZoningDiscriminationAgainstManufaturedHomeJDHarperExecuitveDirectorArkansasManufacturedHousingAssociationAMHAlogoIndustryVoicesDailyBusinessNewsMHProNews

We hope this decision will cause city leaders to consider other, non-arbitrary factors when making decisions about home placement within their towns.

When our organization is allowed to provide advice to cities on how to address the placement of factory-built units within their boundaries – we always caution against arbitrary restrictions (i.e. home value, age, etc.) that would determine if a home would be allowed.

Several tiny cities around McCrory had enacted similar restrictions, and have made changes to their ordinances in response to this lawsuit.

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The McCrory settlement was obtained by  Equal Justice Under Law,  a civil rights organization. The case will be the subject of a Daily Business News report. The headline and these graphics were provided by MHProNews, as is customary in trade media and other forms of journalism. The text comments were sent by JD Harper to MHProNews for publication. Other perspectives, comments, and news tips are welcomed. Send to iReportMHNewsTips@mhmsm.com with a bold subject line that says NEWS TIP or LETTER TO EDITOR, thank you.

If decision-makers in cities [particularly smaller towns] would take a look at today’s manufactured housing – instead of relying on outdated images, preconceived notions, and the myths, misconceptions and stereotypes that seem to be inextricably linked to this product – I believe they would find it relatively simple to develop ordinances and regulations that would allow the regulated placement of factory-built structures on individual lots and in multi-site developments in a manner that would encourage affordable housing growth.

The McCrory settlement is just another arrow in the quiver to use when city leaders attempt to discriminate against people who might not make as much money as the members of the planning commission or city council – or at least don’t want to spend more for a site-built home. ##

JDHarperExecutiveDirectorArkansasManufacturedHousingAssocPostedMHProNews

By JD Harper
AMHA

The Manufactured Home Windstorm Story Not Told ~ Lives saved with Proper Installation

January 7th, 2015 No comments

Jasper County Mississippi was one of three counties targeted by one or more EF2 tornadoes over the weekend of January 3rd. Thirty-Three homes were destroyed in these weather events. This is certainly tragic, and news. Of course the media outlets focused on the “mobile home community” where six of the homes were destroyed. These six homes were all reported by local media as “mobile homes.”

First, why did the news media focus on the 6 ‘mobile homes,’ vs. the dozens of conventional houses that were destroyed. Is that media bias?

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The NBC news report on this previous southern tornado incident – shown in the photo above- includes these comments:

For three days this week, dozens of twisters raked across the South and Plains, killing 38 people and destroying hundreds of homes.”

So why didn’t the Mississippi news media in this recent incident focus on the dozens of conventional houses destroyed? Why did their coverage focus instead on ‘mobile homes’ destroyed?

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Manufactured Home on right was the least expensive home in that market area,
while the conventional house on the left that loses its roof and suffers major damage
cost about 4-5 times as much as the MH.
Still photos credit: NBC News/IBHS Hurricane Wind Test video.

To be fair, it is entirely possible that all six of these older factory built houses reported by the MS media were in fact “mobile homes;” meaning pre-June 15, 1976 houses built in a factory. There have been no mobile homes built in the U.S. since June 15, 1976!

The likelihood that all 6 of those MH’s were ‘mobile homes’ is limited. Perhaps 20%-25% of the factory-built houses in use in the U.S. today are truly “mobile homes,” meaning built pre-1976 federal construction standards. Those national safety and construction standards are proven to make modern manufactured homes (MH) as safe or safer than conventional construction, so long as they are properly installed.

Those federal standards, commonly called the HUD Code for manufactured homes, upgraded the homes and turned pre-code ‘mobile houses’ legally into ‘manufactured homes.’

Manufactured homes” isn’t just a nicer, fancier or newer name for a mobile home. The new name reflects an improved way of building the homes to make them stronger, safer and better! That’s good for consumers and for the MH industry too.

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Why is one house crushed and the neighboring one damaged but structurally
intact? Many times the answer is proper MH installation.
Moore, OK May 5, 2013. that destroyed hundreds of conventional houses,
as well as dozens of mobile and manufactured homes.

But even a good product has to be properly used. A good manufactured home has to be properly installed. In some areas, manufactured homes didn’t have state or federal standards installation until the last decade or so.

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Photo above from recent MS tornadoes. Notice that the home, even though it rolled,
someone could have survived inside it. Do you see any anchor straps on this house?
In fact, even without straps, there were no deaths in this incident. Credit – Weather Channel.

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What is likely is that these six homes in the MS incident had improper or no tie down installations. Why do I say that? Simple! Because the community owner’s manufactured home was clearly unmoved in that same tornado, as the same news video footage revealed.

The home that survived that MS tornado had relatively minor damage and was reported as still very much livable. It was apparently ‘tied down.’ So what about the others right next to that properly installed home?

Here are the most reasonable scenarios on the 6 “mobile” or manufactured homes that were destroyed:

  • The mobile or manufactured homes had improper installation and/or no anchors/strapping. Anything not anchored to the ground is likely to go flying – or in the case of a house that weighs as much as 30,000 pounds for a single section – may roll or get badly damaged.
  • The houses had improper additions attached to the mobile or manufactured home. Hurricane wind studies reported by IBHS and NBC News indicate that 80% of all MHs lost in hurricanes are not the failure of the home itself, but rather are damaged by faulty add-ons that in turn cause a part of the home to open up to severe winds that then further damage or destroy the home. Wouldn’t that principle also apply to tornadoes?
  • As an interesting side note, a town in FL is considering a law requiring outside Air Conditioners on conventional houses to be properly installed, because those ACs that aren’t tied down are often picked up by high winds – and when they go flying – are dangerous!
  • High winds and tornadoes aren’t a manufactured home issue, it is a proper installation issue!

The second bullet applies the same to conventional housing as site built housing.

Notice that this hurricane wind test was performed in a special facility by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS).   The house on the right is ‘fortified,’ the one on the left is regular site build construction. The same sort of thing can happen with a tornado. Who says? This video of a conventional house in Iowa capture by a bank ATM camera! It shows a conventional house swept away in seconds by the tornado winds once contact is made.

When we look at the video of the 6 destroyed MHs and the one that survived provided by the news outlet, you can faintly see the strapping under the home still standing. By contrast, we can’t see ANY strapping or evidence of anchors from the video on the 6 destroyed homes.

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This tragic MS story could have been educational, not just sensational. The media could have said, the lesson here is that a manufactured home that is properly installed is no more vulnerable to a tornado than a conventional house.

Then, the media could have said, if you own a mobile or manufactured home, why not use this tragedy as a reminder that it is pretty low cost to anchor your home properly, vs. the terrible loss that could take place if your home has no anchors.

Today and for many years, manufactured homes have to have proper installation as mandated by the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000 (MHIA 2000). The media and public officials should note that the MH industry WANTED these standards, the industry asked for this law! Which means, as an industry we want our home owners to be safe and have the most possible peace of mind!

Perhaps good reporters need to learn a bit more about current best practices and that the HUD Code for manufactured homes now nationally blankets the manufactured home industry coast to coast. Maybe the media and their news directors need to read the reports and watch the testing videos that show the strength of properly installed manufactured homes in high winds.

Maybe, just maybe, the media needs to quit focusing on events that shine an implied bad light on a large section of the housing industry and instead re-focus on how more families are becoming home owners with quality built manufactured homes, at a fraction of the cost of “site built” homes.

No house above ground is completely safe in a tornado. But there are plenty of examples of manufactured homes that survive right next door to some that don’t. The difference? In many cases, the answer is clearly the quality of the home’s anchoring/installation.

An improperly installed manufactured home won’t stand up to a tornado of any real magnitude, then again, neither will “site built” homes.

The media should make sure of their facts before they report and should always use the proper terminology. The report as it stands leaves more questions than answers. The media shouldn’t target manufactured homes, when site built houses are just as vulnerable, and at times, more so.

One bit of good news they got right in the report is that there were no serious injuries or fatalities, and when it comes down to it, that is the most important news information that we can get. ##

victor-frost-fairfield-homes-land-texas-posted-inspiration-blog-mhpronews-com--150x150Victor Frost

Fairfield Homes and Land.

Who’s in Charge Here?

June 3rd, 2014 No comments

Rick Rand’s excellent proposal for an all-industry conclave at a neutral location is gathering momentum. Such a venue should certainly not screen out the smaller operators who have always been a prime source of innovation, and it is vitally important that the “big guys” also be at the table. Make room for the various associations charged with the thankless task of placating the placating the industry’s many voices.

As a long-retired veteran of manufactured housing, I’m appalled at the conflicts, back-biting and lack of leadership that has always hamstrung our young industry. It was understandable in the early days when the largest manufacturers controlled less than ten percent of shipments and no other industry constituent was in a position make things happen beyond his own company (in those days, the leading players were all men).

Today, though manufactured housing is a shadow of its former self, the product itself is far better, the need for affordable housing is far greater, the leading manufacturers remain profitable, the market for manufactured housing communities is heating up and the stick competition is in disarray. So why are our sales volumes in the dumper?

It is true of course that we, as an industry, have made many mistakes. And we’ll make more.

In a free enterprise system, we learn from our mistakes and keep moving forward. That’s exactly what needs to happen at the kind of meeting Rick has proposed. Pull the tribe together with an agenda focused on the problems we’ve created, the opportunities ahead and agree upon a broad based strategy to deal with today’s challenges. Ideas and innovations are often sparked over a cup of coffee or glass of beer, and contacts have always been the lifeblood of the industry.

But far more is needed than griping about Dodd-Frank and what names we should use for our products. Consider some fundamentals.

Housing is one of America’s least efficient industries. That includes stick builders and us too. Why is that? Well, there’s no serious foreign or domestic competition, no real industry leadership, way too much regulation and negligible innovation. That’s been the case for a hundred years.

Academics and all sorts of advanced thinkers have, for at least that long, looked to industrializing the building process to break out of housing’s quagmire. It has finally happened. The industry we now call manufactured housing has demonstrated the ability to build good housing at roughly half the cost of traditional methods, and we have the black eyes to prove it.

As one result, America’s largest home builder is one of us, and one of the world’s richest men bankrolls MH financing. Something like 20 million Americans live in homes we’ve built and the vast majority of them appreciate the comfort and value those homes provide. There’s ever so much more that could and should be done, but we’ve made a better start than any other tilter at housing’s windmills. Many have tried.

One thing the MH industry agreed upon some 40 years ago was to unite under the HUD banner. That turned out to be a painful process with about as many negative as positive outcomes. We banded together again to reform that process with the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000 (MHIA 2000), but guess what? Big Brother has its own ideas about “Improvement” which do not include a lot of use for industry committee input.

We’ve got a lot going for us, and yet the squabbles continue. If there’s an industry strategy, it did not emerge from my recent research. What is happening is a plethora of tactics, put forward under various banners, mostly going nowhere.

As an industry professional, you can put forward some ideas for how to deal with these challenges. So can I, and I’ve done so in my recent book, Dueling Curves. It’s not enough.

Maybe at Rick’s gathering of the tribes, some sort of consensus can be reached, on a whole bunch of nifty ideas.

But that’s not enough either.

The single most important objective of such a congress—or whatever it’s to be called—should be to the emergence of industry leadership. Not a task force, committee or agency, but a person of vision who commands the respect of the industry.

A tribal chief who can weave the disparate strengths of the manufacturers, suppliers, financiers, retailers, MH owners and community operators into a strategy we can all salute. Oh well, yes, there will always be a few curmudgeons. No one will be entirely happy with any strategic vision adequate to unite us; not even the leader who ultimately propounds it.

But let me suggest this. Should we fail to unite behind competent leadership, I can suggest who will become take charge of the industry. Well, maybe I shouldn’t name names, but the initials are H.U.D. ##

bob-vahsholtz-author-dueling-curves-battle-for-housing-posted-industry-voices-guest-blog-mhpronews-com-manufatured-housing-professional-news-75x75-Bob Vahsholtz is the author of DUELING CURVES The Battle for Housing Bob can be reached at kingmidgetswest@gmail.com. Web: www.kingmidgetswest.com

Reading The National Association

August 12th, 2011 2 comments

The Journal

I get “The Journal” monthly, the Jim Visser published magazine that appears to be the sole remaining print manufactured housing periodical. Others, including the much beloved Manufactured Housing Merchandiser, dropped by the wayside in the recent past, as advertising support fell off. Take HUD Code home shipments from 372,800 in 1998, and let them free-fall to some 50,000 in 2010, and that 86% drop annihilated much of an entire industry. We see the results about as everywhere.

I read The Journal regularly, reading some articles carefully and skimming others of less interest to me, but I look at all of them. Note that all of the writers therein are either executives at MH trade associations, or consultants. The tradeoff for the publication is a plentiful supply of written material for free, which they sandwich around their advertising. The writers, mostly consultants, get no pay but are happy to write the pieces to highlight their acumen in their area of expertise, sometimes leading to paid consulting assignments.

We also get some “infomercials” from paid advertisers. They buy an ad and the periodical allows them to write a “puff piece,” often nothing more than a glorified press release. No worries mate, The Journal is not the Wall Street Journal and no one expects it to be.

All the materials therein provide information, which is what advertising is meant to do. The reason Jack uses Enzyte after playing golf is that it makes him a “bigger” man. Informative, right?

Read the articles written by a number of the regular contributors in The Journal or an online ezine like MSMSM.com, and you begin to have a feel for the person or organization producing these pieces.

Trade Associations

As an example, both the manufactured housing trade associations, Manufactured Housing Institute (MHI) and Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform (MHARR) use the pages of The Journal and MHMSM.com to report their goals and positions on industry matters they deem important. It is also very obviously a recruitment tool for them.

And what can we glean from the decade plus of pieces there by the two national associations in The Journal?

The first thing we deduce is that MHI, through its last three leaders, strikes a measured approach to Washington matters. Being a collection of both home production and the dreaded “post production” segments, they come across as informed, conciliatory, and doing what they can to further the industry’s goals, as envisioned by a few large and powerful members, especially those who are heavy dues payers.

The MHI employee count has plunged in the last 10 years almost as much as industry home shipments, yet I do not notice that much fall-off in their accomplishments. This either says a great deal about the efficiency of the present crew there or the common occurrence in organizations to grow employees more than accomplishments.

On the other hand, MHARR has been, with a brief hiatus in the last few years, almost exclusively the venue for the HUD Code home producers. At MHARR “post production” seems like two dirty words. The HUD Code, the feared federal regulatory scheme of the late 1970’s, brought cries of “it will destroy the industry” before it’s taking effect. Since then, like the “Stockholm Syndrome” it has taken full control of MHARR, and their strong expressions in the pages of The Journal and everywhere else they’ll be heard.

One can only view it as a hate-love relationship with the HUD Code as interpreted, declared and attacked by MHARR’s fearless battering ram, Danny Ghorbani. Say what you will about Danny, he is knowledgeable about the HUD Code as no one else, and relentless in his pursuit of seeing it applied as he sees its meaning.

Danny’s problem, of course, is that not everyone sees it his way. I haven’t noticed MHI being quite so animated in its pursuit of “the Code.” Oh, I’m still waiting for Danny to complete the Manufactured Housing Improvement Act of 2000 (MHIA 2000) Subpart I mandates, his 10-year quest I think as yet uncompleted.

Different Heads

Anyone who has read the pieces by the national association heads here at MHMSM.com and elsewhere will have the feeling that MHI and MHARR are very different organizations. If I’m asked which is more effective I can only comment that neither has been able to stop the regulatory onslaught nor marshaled a unified approach to correcting the deficiencies of the Manufactured Buggy Whip industry. Their efforts have all been in Washington, where they all live and work. Other than the “Duty to Serve” inserted into the GSE mandates, I’ve seen little or nothing which would sell one more home, which should be the aim of the national associations, not the ease of home production.

Blocked weather radios?

Well Hells Bells, Boy, that saved $40.00 per home! Look how that saved $40.00 spurred the sale of homes!

The industry has a whole news media constantly telling the public of the danger of turbulent weather towards manufactured housing. So the battle against weather radios comes off in the media as lack of care for consumer safety by the MH industry. Instead, the weather radio, perhaps not the best weather Paul Revere, could have been taken by the industry and used to show how much MH cares about consumer safety in a lemons to lemonade move. The industry might also have supported proper installation and anchoring of homes. Those moves were fought everywhere, including Florida, where anchors were slammed down our craw. Who was the first to take credit for the very fine job anchored MH demonstrated after the numerous hurricanes in Florida? You tell me!

Waiting to See

But here’s the article I’m awaiting to see in MHMSM.com and in The Journal, by both organizations: Here is a list of the items we have accomplished in Washington, and elsewhere WHICH HAVE LED TO THE SALE OF x MORE HOMES AND MADE THEM A BETTER VALUE FOR OUR CONSUMERS. Wanna see that one? I sure do.

Perhaps it’s unfair to pick on the two national associations. They are both staffed with good people doing what they think is right for the industry. Maybe our expectations for their results are too high.

Could it be these national associations exist only to create and support networking opportunities between industry players and to inform of matters deemed to be important or interesting as it affects the industry? Long ago I came to that conclusion.

The starkest example of the inability of the national associations to really matter beyond information and networking occurred during the period of 2001-2010, especially in 2004-2008, as frequent attempts were made to “restructure” the so-apparent industry defects which were destroying industry sales.

For a variety of reasons, none of the grandiose measures proposed, vetted and formulated in writing came to fruition, as we saw our associations have no ability to restructure an industry. Only the marketplace has that ability, and it proceeds to do so apace. Note that shipments through June of 2011 were down almost 12.3% from last year. Let’s face it, we blew what little wad we had in Elkhart in June of 2010 when FHFA, the GSE’s regulator, told the industry plainly: Our Duty to Serve (DTS) the MH industry doesn’t extend to chattel lending, as the GSE’s already have enough problems without getting into new and potentially troublesome areas, where they have very limited expertise. So much for Duty to Serve and all the homes it would sell through new chattel financing from the GSE’s.

Minor Success

The associations did help get FHA Title I (Chattel Loan) reformed last year, after the program was long time moribund. First year loan volume in 2010 was hardly encouraging, but OK, put that on the list as an accomplishment, limited as it is.

The horse has left the stable on SAFE, Dodd-Frank, other regulations and Super Consumer Agency. Both national associations are actively trying to reform major portions of the laws to exempt MH retailers and others from the force of the laws and their regulations. I suppose a strong selling point by the industry can be the straightforward reputation MH has for integrity in the sale and financing of homes. (Ah, they may have to back off from that one.) I think instead they are going to use affordability of our homes and limiting consumer choices as reasons to exempt manufactured housing from the new regulations. That event, should it transpire, should turbo-boost new home shipments! Right?

Wait a minute. Those laws, bureaus and regs haven’t been in effect all during the explosive industry dismantlement since 1999, so even if the above laws do not take effect against MH they will only reduce the slide, and do nothing to increase shipments. Whoops!

Communiqués Aplenty

Every month we read the numerous communiqués from both national associations. MHI seems the more measured with a range of information and an attempt to influence law makers and regulators with an effort to strike a balance between persuasion and facts. They do not seem to get much done, but then again, why should we expect the MH industry, a true 90 pound weakling, to get things done on SAFE, Dodd-Frank, and Super Consumer Agency when real powerhouses like the Mortgage Bankers and Realtors have had so little success. How, indeed?

Read one of the missives from MHARR and at first blush these beautifully structured sentences and paragraphs speak of power, passion, and a non-compromising attitude. I suppose the reality would be more palatable if not for the fact that this association is a loud-mouthed 90 pound weakling, but a weakling nonetheless. Their endless wrangling with HUD and others almost seems like that cartoon where Bugs and Elmer Fudd go to work every day, punch the time clock, spend 8 hours abusing each other, then punch out at day’s end and go home for a burger and a cold beer. It’s all a game.

And I don’t really blame the staff at MHARR, as they are employees who are guided by the officers and members of the association. It is they who foster this pugnacious attitude. If they have turned MHARR into a “wind them up and let ‘em pummel” HUD or whoever, it is because many in MH have this deviant thought that the “affordability” of the homes the industry produces allows them special prerogatives at the political table. What they do not apparently understand is that affordability of our homes is in the eye of the beholder, and in any event, loan defaults trump home affordability. The industry and their national associations make too much of “affordability” and the results show.

This would all be amusing, of course, if in the course of being a lobbyist, which MHARR is, it actually got things accomplished. Instead, we see a lobbying effort whose response from those they lobby is to roll their eyes about MHARR and call in sick when they are expected to visit.

MHI is conciliatory but gets little done and MHARR is pugnacious and gets little done. Maybe our expectations are too high for what each can and does accomplish. And certainly as shipments have plunged, so has the industry’s importance, PAC money and influence. Hang on to that affordability, it’s all we’ve got!

The Roles

Currently, as the MH industry press explores the roles of the two national associations and whether another is needed, or whether there is any hope the existing two could and should merge, I’m bemused by all the attention to this concern. (Merger you say? Sure! Fool me once, shame on you, etc.) The role of each seems clear to me. MHI is the broad purveyor of consensus and civility, calling on uncaring bureaucrats who do little for them, but meet with them. MHARR is the pit bull, knocking on D.C. doors wherein frightened bureaucrats lie prostrate, with the door well locked. Don’t come in! One tries persuasion, the other intimidation. Both can work in the right hands and proper hands, but the limitations of each, as it applies to the industry, is clearer than ever.

At the heart of the matter is that mortgage defaults and loan losses trump home affordability and consumer choice. No matter the strategy employed by the two national associations, talking home affordability has its limits. In fact I daresay it is not affordability which drove bloated 1990’s MH shipments and sales. No, it was transaction ease, that is, it was easy during the Greenseco era to buy and finance a manufactured home. Home affordability to a degree remains, but transaction ease left, with the results we now see. I’m not sure how the national associations can react to that, for in order to re-establish transaction ease, someone has to take on some massive chattel loan losses. Any volunteers? Danny? Thayer? Anyone? # #

Post by

MARTIN V. (MARTY) LAVIN
attorney, consultant, expert witness
practice only in factory built housing
350 Main Street Suite 100
Burlington, Vermont 05401-3413
802-660-8888
802-238-7777 cell
web site: www.martylavin.com

email mhlmvl@aol.com / marty@martylavin.com