An open letter to our SmartMH lender network and stakeholders:

In light of recent events, I have the privilege to benefit from the safety and security afforded by a job that allows me to work from home. Having a home, however, should not be privilege – and particularly not in the midst of a global pandemic. Shelter is an essential need. Housing is a human right.

We are facing an unprecedented unemployment challenge, with 26.5 million unemployment claims filed in the past five weeks, pushing us nearer to 20 percent unemployment.  I vividly remember another record-breaking time of unemployment in our history. It was the fall of 1982, and I had just turned 16-years-old. I got my birthday wish that year – a pair of Calvin Klein Jeans (modeled by Brooke Shields at that time). Ronald Reagan was president, and he spoke to me as a leader in uncertain times. To fight inflation, interest rates skyrocketed. My father, an auctioneer by trade, had just started a new business: a cattle stockyard. We were optimistic about selling our family farm for a new home and business. I was proud of my new home, and excited for our new adventure.

When the recession came, we could not absorb the skyrocketing interest rates for my father’s new business and our home mortgage. We lost both. 

For that reason, I built Next Step with a mission focused on sustainable homeownership. We strive not only to put homeownership within reach of everyone, but to ensure homeowners’ success. These principles guide everything we do—supporting and educating home buyers, ensuring home quality, and finding the best loans that will allow people to build wealth and preserve assets. I never want to hear a story about another child who had to trail behind their father when the lender comes calling to take their home away.  

As we continue toward a prolonged economic crisis, we cannot forget the 25 million Americans living in a manufactured home.

There will be new programs to help Americans keep their homes. However, we cannot allow those policymakers designing these programs to disregard the needs of our families when these programs are designed. The families that we serve are often older, poorer and living in rural areas, and they will need our help to come back from these times. In 2008, the manufactured housing industry galvanized and managed the crisis well, keeping more families in their homes. However, I am weary of how the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis will impact our families, given the struggles and challenges they already face day-to-day. Our families are the wage earners who have lost their jobs. As policymakers grapple with the challenges of the COVID-19 response, the inclination will be to focus on the needs of homeless individuals, and those low-income families living in multifamily homes in larger metro areas.

Our clarion call should be that we maintain focus on the fact that manufactured housing is the largest source of unsubsidized housing in the nation, and is the only viable affordable housing option in many communities.  It is equally as important as other forms of housing and requires the same or greater attention. Therefore, I am challenging our SmartMH lending partners to come to together and take the lead on keeping families in their homes.

Let’s work together on a forbearance strategy that is collaborative, fair, and swift to address needs in this crisis.

  • Freddie Mac, who helped us build the SmartMH program, and Fannie Mae, a supporter of our counselor network, are allowing homeowners to access forbearance plans up to 12 months; waiving assessments of penalties and late fees during this period and offering loan modifications and repayment options.
  • Credit Human, a SmartMH lender partner, is leading the way by suspending interest accumulation during their forbearance period. I am confident that there are others already working on equally effective solutions. 

Now is the time for the GSEs to support homeownership mitigation counseling for manufactured home buyers and offer tailored programing for their unique needs with specific outreach and training for counselors to understand manufactured housing finance. We want to bring our SmartMH lenders and their servicers to the table and figure out how we can leverage the SmartMH program, housing counselors and our network to help families navigate these difficult times. And we need bold leadership at the Federal Housing Finance Agency to fully implement Congress’ requirement to serve the manufactured housing market. Now is not the time to retreat from the progress we’ve made, but to drive forward and ensure that manufactured housing is an impactful solution for the country’s affordable housing crisis. 

I’ll never forget the pain of losing my home, and we need your partnership and collaboration to help us prevent that same heartache and loss for our homeowners today. 

In partnership,

open letter

Stacey Epperson,
President & Founder