The best kind of problem to have – one with a solution

Hurricane Katrina destroyed an estimated 60-70,000 homes along the Mississippi Gulf Coast -taking so much from us but depositing one Marianne Custo on our shore to attend the Mississippi Renewal Forum in October 2005.

Marianne Cusato stands about 5-foot-nothin’ with a headful of shoulder-length black curls that won’t stay in place when she talks. She has the nervous energy symptomatic of youth, raw talent, and unleashed want-to. Miss Marianne claims to be 31, but she’d be hard-pressed to buy liquor without an ID.

A Manhattan-based architect from Anchorage, Alaska, by way of South Bend (Go Irish!), Ms. Cusato talks so fast a Southerner needs subtitles. Say again? Pardon? She’s kind enough to repeat herself.

Repeatedly. In fact, she just did, telling us once more that we can’t call her an architect yet; officially, she’s a designer. Okay. Yes ma’am. She’s also got visual aids. That helps. She’s holding up designs for something she calls the Katrina Cottage.

Cute as the dickens. All beachy angles, peaks and front porches. Looks like something out of Adorable Coastal Living for the Incredibly Wealthy magazine. It’s not.

What the Katrina Cottage is, is an alternative to the FEMA trailer. No joke. And get this: It costs less. Where the woefully inadequate, tiny, yack-ugly, hospital-white trailer preferred by the Federal Emergency Mismanagement Agency runs us taxpayers about $75,000…Cusato thinks her cottage could be manufactured for about 45 grand. Or less. Plus, you can add on to it. So it’s a temporary solution with a lease for permanence.

The trick is getting all the red tape off these cottages so they can become become permanent – and folks in Jackson County are doing their best to unwrap the cottages there.

The Jackson County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on Monday to allow the permanent placement of Mississippi Cottages in unincorporated areas of the county zoned for mobile homes. Planning Director Michele Coats brought the issue to the table because she wanted to give people more time to plan for housing if the board decided not to allow the permanent placement of the cottages, she said. A previous resolution said the cottages were to be temporary and set the deadline to leave the cottages for March 2009.

Now, those living in Mississippi Cottages may chose to buy the cottages and use them permanently as long as they meet all zoning requirements.

Cottages may be kept in A1 and R4 zones, both of which are north of Interstate 10 and currently allow for placement of mobile homes. Each cottage that is to remain must be permitted again, Coats said. Cottages that were temporarily placed in flood zones must be moved, said Ken McCool, jurisdiction liaison for MEMA. There are 417 Mississippi Cottages in Jackson County, he said, and if those living in cottages in zones where mobile homes are not allowed buy land in an A1 or R4 zone, MEMA will assist them in their move.

Pascagoula – the county seat – will be taking a second shot at making good use of the cottages available there when the City Council meets tonight.

At a July 1 council meeting, city leaders shot down the request to place the 12 to 15 cottages on property slated for riverfront development to include mixed-use retail, home and business space.

The plan would’ve allowed MEMA to select the people who lived in the cottages for two years. After that, Kell said, the cottages would remain on the property, with some used for housing and others used for retail and office space.

Kell said she’s bringing the issues back up tonight at the request of the City Council for a simple reason.

We’re doing it because our industry is having trouble recruiting employees, and we need housing,” Kell said. “We’re trying to see how the cottages can fit in certain areas. It’s three years since the storm and housing is not coming fast enough.” (emphasis added)

If you click on the linked Katrina Cottage above, you’ll learn the design was created to overcome barriers like those facing the City Council.

The cottages, Kell said, would have to meet flood-plain requirements and code-enforcement regulations. Because the Mississippi cottages are small, she said, some additions could be necessary to meet the city’s requirement that all homes are a minimum of 1,000 square feet.

Katrina Cottages were built with growth – and a lot of other things in mind.

Katrina Cottages are built with hurricane-resistant materials and are designed to withstand hurricane force winds. A Katrina Cottage must meet the International Building Code (IBC) as adopted by Mississippi and Louisiana, and should be installed to FEMA flood elevation guidelines, if applicable. It may be built of any technology or delivery system, including mobile home standards, pre-manufactured elements, panelization, or site-built of any material.

While designed at the Mississippi Renewal Forum immediately after Katrina for emergency housing, they may be useful as reasonably priced housing anywhere. The Cottages are useful for camps, beach houses, hunting lodges, guest cottages, and reasonably priced, well-designed primary housing in any part of the world.

The good news for those of you who aren’t in a housing emergency is that you can stop by Lowe’s next time you’re out and pick one up – and, hey, if you grab an extra, in Jackson County there’s a man with a plan.

Supervisor Tommy Brodnax said he is in favor of letting residents keep the cottages if they choose. “I don’t have a problem with these cottages,” he said. “They are much of an improvement over mobile homes. I wish every poor person in the county could have one of these…

Me, too, Tommy. Me, too.

3 thoughts on “The best kind of problem to have – one with a solution”

  1. IT IS ASHAME THAT THE KATRINA COTTAGES AND MISSISSIPPI COTTAGES FALL UNDER HUD AND HAVE A HIGH LEVEL OF FORMALDEHYDE IN THEM. IS THE STATES THAT ARE ALLOWING THEM ALLOWED TO SELL A HAZARDOUS WASTE WITH FEDERAL GRANT MONEY OR SHOULD ALL THE KATRINA COTTAGES BE DONATED SINCE THE STATES ARE USEING MONEY THAT THEY DO NOT HAVE TO PAY BACK????

  2. THERE IS FORMALDEHYDE FREE EMERGENCY HOUSING AVAILABLE BUT HALEY CAN NOT PUT HIS OWN MONEY INTO THEM SO I DO NOT THINK THAT THE STATES WILL GO WITH IT. FEMA AND HUD HAVE BOTH KNOWN ABOUT THIS PRODUCT SINCE NOV. 07′ AND DID NOTHING ABOUT IT.

  3. James, what is the “formaldehyde free emergency housing” you’re talking about?

    I’ve been thinking about – and researching – your comments during the day and do not find information to back up your claim that Katrina cottages have a high level of formaldehyde in them.

    I did find an article reporting presence of formaldehyde in a few tested Katrina cottages that were tested and the indication that testing would continue.

    Before I comment further, I’d like to better understand what you’re claiming is formaldehyde free. Thanks. Nowdy

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