Image: Katrina Cottage
Nicole Lacour Young  /  AP file
A "Katrina Cottage,"  in Ocean Springs, Miss. is the prototype on display as an example of an alternative to FEMA trailers.
updated 7/6/2006 8:04:33 PM ET 2006-07-07T00:04:33

Hurricane Katrina has spawned a real cottage industry, catering to the tens of thousands of families still crammed in government-issued trailers 10 months after the storm.

Teams of architects and builders are racing to design, construct and sell creations like the "Katrina Cottage" and "Coastal Cabana," billed as comfortable, durable and affordable alternatives to the flimsy trailers furnished by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Congress also joined the fray earlier this month, earmarking $400 million for a pilot program that could move thousands of FEMA trailer occupants into cottages.

Mississippi and Louisiana are drawing up plans to implement the pilot program, but the private sector isn't waiting for government officials to act. Some entrepreneurs are already taking orders from Gulf Coast residents itching to ditch their FEMA trailers.

"We're all tired of living in small spaces," said Ocean Springs architect Bruce Tolar, who's teaming up with the Lowe's home improvement chain to build a showcase of nearly 20 Katrina cottages in his storm-ravaged hometown. Lowe's Cos. Inc. is donating the material for Tolar to build one of the cottages.

The first "Katrina Cottage," designed by New York architect Marianne Cusato, made a splash when a prototype debuted in January at a trade show in Florida. Six months later, Cusato is in talks with Lowe's to design and manufacture a "kit" for that will provide the materials for builders to assemble a Katrina cottage on site.

"The only difference between this house and a normal house is the size," she said. "It fills a market that doesn't exist. If you want something that small right now, you're in a trailer."

Cusato's prototype is 308 square feet — slightly larger than a FEMA trailer — and features a porch, a metal roof and cement siding designed to withstand winds of up to 130 miles per hour.

Inside the cottage is a living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom with matching bunk beds and a closet. A hatch in the bedroom leads to an additional storage area between the ceiling and roof.

Cusato has tinkered with her prototype and designed a 512-square-foot cottage that adds a second bedroom and space for a washing machine and dryer. She also has a blueprint for a 450-square-foot "New Orleans Cottage," with closed eaves and bracketed canopies that reflect the city's architecture.

"What we're trying to do is build well and build for the future," she said. "That's what people want in their towns."

Cost can range between $35,000 to $45,000
The prototype was expected to cost between $35,000 and $45,000, minus foundation and delivery costs. Cusato said the prices haven't been set for her newer, larger models.

Her first cottage, now parked on a vacant lot near a busy intersection in Ocean Springs, attracts a steady stream of curiosity seekers who wander up and peer through its windows.

"I could live like that," Marty Wagoner, a financial consultant, said to himself when he saw the prototype across the street from his office.

Wagoner, his wife, Lisa, and their twin 6-year-old sons have been living in a rental home in downtown Ocean Springs since Katrina destroyed their beachfront house. The couple has commissioned Tolar, the local architect, to build them a 768-square-foot cottage that will include the red oak floors from their old home.

"That's the cool thing about them: You can kind of personalize them," said Wagoner, who expects his cottage to cost roughly $100 per square foot.

Moving into a cottage also will allow his family to live on their property while they build a new house. "It's small, but it feels like a real home," he said of the cottage.

The Katrina Cottage is a product of an October 2005 gathering of architects in Biloxi organized by Andres Duany, a Miami-based architect and prominent figure in the "New Urbanist" movement to curb suburban sprawl and create compact, walkable cities.

Duany, who challenged Cusato and other architects to design alternatives to FEMA trailers, drafted his own blueprint for a Katrina Cottage, a 770-square-foot model he unveiled in Chalmette, La., in March.

Mississippi and Louisiana both have embraced the cottages, but details of the government's pilot program are sketchy. Congress didn't specify what sort of alternative to FEMA trailers should be funded, and it's unclear whether the two states would share the federal money.

Gavin Smith, director of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour's Office of Recovery & Renewal, said the state has 45 days to submit a proposal to FEMA for replacing trailers with "Mississippi cottages."

"Families should not be living in a travel trailer for upwards of five or 10 years while the coast is being rebuilt," Smith said. "Not only would (cottages) be more durable, but they would also replace the architectural styles of the homes we lost."

Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran also has pressed FEMA to embrace alternatives to trailers, but the agency has cited a federal law that prohibits it from providing disaster victims with what could be considered permanent housing.

"We're not interested in creating more trailer parks," Moran said. "We want to create cottage neighborhoods where the architecture resembles the coastal vernacular."

The Coastal Cabana
The Katrina Cottage already has competition from the Coastal Cabana, a 336-square-foot, prefabricated home designed by Hurricane Homes Inc. of Pascagoula. The company was building larger modular homes before Katrina, but the Aug. 29 hurricane inspired it to create a smaller design for storm victims. It has a porch, a living/dining room, bathroom and bedroom with a closet and optional space for a washer and dryer.

"This could be a disposable home, for $45,000," said Bruce Garceau, the company's CEO. "If you wanted a beach house — a smaller house on the beach with a larger home inland — this is perfect for you."

The Katrina Cottage and Coastal Cabana aren't just for disaster victims, their architects note. Cusato, for instance, said she is working with a Washington-based nonprofit group to design cottages for impoverished residents of a coastal town in Ghana.

"This was designed for storm victims, but it also could be a good solution for affordable housing nationwide," she said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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