Politics & Government

New disaster-housing design wins applause

The interior of a Mississippi cottage.
The interior of a Mississippi cottage. Federation of American Scientists / MCT

WASHINGTON — Post-Katrina trailers got awful reviews, but the manufactured replacement housing that's going up in Mississippi now is drawing raves.

Called the Mississippi Cottage, it's energy-efficient, safe, able to withstand 150 mph winds and designed to meet local building codes for permanent housing.

"An absolutely superb line of housing," crowed Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists, at a show-and-tell session Wednesday afternoon in Washington.

The federation, which helped engineer the cottages, wants the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to write a new model building code that applies the cottages' energy conservation and other high-performance standards to new construction nationwide.

On Mississippi's Gulf Coast, the shotgun-style cottage is so popular and fits in so well with traditional architecture that even people who don't need help with their housing are building their own versions based on the Mississippi Cottage design.

Marty Wagoner, a financial adviser in Ocean Springs, Miss., is a fan. "These homes give dignity, stability and normalcy" to life, he said, compared to the 6,944 Federal Emergency Management Agency mobile homes still in use in the state.

Wagoner's living in an adaptation of the Mississippi Cottage design while building a larger house for his family of four. He said he plans to keep the cottage as a guest house once the new home is done.

Mississippi Cottages are so popular that Home Depot and Lowe's stores stock kit versions.

The homes are tiny: The two-bedroom version totals 728 square feet; the three-bedroom just 840. But they have porches, big windows, metal roofs and cement siding that'll withstand a hurricane. They come in a variety of pastel colors.

Production costs run from $32,000 to $55,000, but operating costs are about $750 to $800 a year, compared with $1,100 for FEMA's comparable construction, according to Federation of American Scientists statistics.

Although the cottages are several thousand dollars more expensive than FEMA's average emergency housing units, "they pay for themselves in a couple of years," said Joe Hagerman, FAS's manager for the Mississippi Cottage project.

In Mississippi, FEMA picked up the tab for the first 2,465 units, which it ultimately intends to sell as permanent housing.

They're the product of a national design competition, provoked by Hurricane Katrina, to come up with durable, affordable post-disaster housing that adapts to different family sizes and is small enough to fit into odd lots.

Louisiana, Texas and Alabama all received some aid for the project, for which Congress gave FEMA $400 million in 2006, but Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and then-Sen.Trent Lott won the lion's share for Mississippi.

Current Mississippi Cottage residents, picked by lottery from among those living in FEMA trailers, pay only utility bills. There are 2,465 occupied units in the state, according to Mississippi officials overseeing them.

At least several hundred more cottages have finished their stints as emergency housing but have yet to find buyers. That may be because buyers must come up with lots to put them on or because mortgages are hard to get these days, especially for low-income families for whom the Mississippi Cottages were designed.

(Kate Magandy of The (Biloxi, Miss.) Sun Herald contributed to this story.)


Learn more about Mississippi Cottages.