by Sarah Edelman, Michela Zonta
Tomorrow, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that would allow employees at manufactured home retailers—who sell houses often called “mobile homes” or “trailers”—to steer customers towards specific loan choices. The Senate Banking Committee will vote on a similar proposal on December 5.
It’s a wonky bill, and it’s flown under the radar so far. But—particularly given the political war being waged at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—it shouldn’t get buried. More than 1 in 10 homes in rural or small-town America were built in a factory, and they are usually owned by older, poorer Americans. Even though the average sale price for a new manufactured home is $68,000, consumers who take out a loan to buy one typically pay high interest rates and fees that can add hundreds of dollars to their monthly housing payment.
Proponents of the new legislation argue that this change will allow salespeople to help consumers find financing more quickly. However, it also creates a powerful incentive for retailers to drive consumers toward the loans that are most profitable for the business—even when there are less expensive options available for the consumer.
Carla Burr, who owns her home in Chantilly, Virginia, was surprised by the interest rate she was offered after she sold her condominium to purchase a manufactured home in 2004. She had good credit and could make a sizeable down payment—she had just netted more than $100,000 from the sale of her condo. But lenders were asking her to pay an interest rate greater than 10 percent for a 20-year mortgage, more than double what she paid on the mortgage for her previous home. “It’s as if they are treating manufactured homeowners as if we were substandard, or uneducated,” Burr said. Today, even though mortgage interest rates are generally lower than they were 13 years ago, manufactured housing consumers like Burr are still being charged high rates.
About 70 percent of mortgages for manufactured homes are already higher-priced mortgage loans , compared with only 3 percent of mortgages for site-built homes. That’s due, at least in part, to the lack of competition within the manufactured housing industry. Companies affiliated with a single large corporation, Clayton Homes, were responsible for 38 percent of manufactured housing loans in 2016 and for more than 70 percent of loans made to African American buyers in 2014. That leaves companies with little need to lower their rates to attract consumers—and that would be especially true if there was a steady stream of referrals from affiliated retail shops.
Clayton Homes is also the largest producer of manufactured homes and sells these homes through 1,600 retailers. That gives the company thousands of opportunities to solicit customers for loans offered by its mortgage lending affiliates, 21st Mortgage and Vanderbilt Mortgage, which make far more loans each year than any other lenders. They also charge consumers higher interest rates than much of their competition.
In Virginia, for instance, this company’s interest rates for higher-priced loans averaged 6.1 percentage points above a typical mortgage loan, whereas interest rates charged for similar loans by the rest of the industry in the commonwealth averaged 3.9 percentage points above a typical loan. For a Virginian taking out an average-size loan from a lender affiliated with Clayton Homes, this means they could pay about $75 more each month and about $18,000 more over the life of a 20-year loan than if they had gotten a mortgage elsewhere. Since owners of manufactured homes in Virginia earn about $40,000 each year—about half the annual income of other homeowners in the commonwealth—these additional payments can be a significant financial strain.
Interest rates aren’t the only thing on the line. The House bill under consideration would also allow lenders to include higher up-front fees, prepayment penalties, balloon payments, and hefty late fees on higher-interest loans, leaving many manufactured housing buyers with expensive loans that are difficult to pay off. Manufactured housing industry lobbyists claim that regulations preventing these practices have made it more expensive to do business and, as a result, consumers can’t get loans to buy manufactured homes. However, Center for American Progress analysis shows that 2015 loan volumes were fairly similar to the volumes before the regulation went into effect; the biggest difference is that fewer consumers received loans with exorbitant rates and risky terms. Last year, there was a modest 5 percent decrease in the number of loans originated, but lending quality remained stronger.
If Congress is serious about giving consumers more borrowing choices, more high-quality lenders need to offer mortgage loans for manufactured housing. However, by giving further advantage to today’s largest providers, these bills could derail efforts to expand financing options available for consumers. Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and state housing finance agencies are taking steps to make it easier for lenders to offer mortgages for manufactured homes. For instance, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have committed to buying more manufactured housing loans from banks, which should encourage more lending. They are also launching pilots to buy manufactured housing loans titled as chattel, which represent the majority of manufactured housing lending. Allowing the largest manufactured housing companies today to tighten their grip on consumers could put newer lenders, who do not have salespeople at retailers promoting their offerings, at a disadvantage.
Consumers of manufactured housing deserve the same rights and protections available to those buying site-built homes. And since families that live in manufactured housing are more likely to be teetering on the edge of financial stability, they are the least well-positioned to shoulder additional burdens. Congress should take further steps to expand options for these consumers, not pave the way for more abuses.
Originally appeared on Talkpoverty.org