Welcome to GulfCoastNews.com

Placement of Mississippi Cottages to Replace FEMA Trailers Moving Slow

by: Keith Burton - GCN   11/8/07

Replacing FEMA trailers with more substantial Mississippi cottages is going slowly. Since the first home was placed this past July only about 655 units have been installed and 500 occupied, according to officials with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), which is administering the program.

While that number is significant, there are 14,080 FEMA travel-type trailers still in use on the Coast, more than two years since Katrina and well beyond their intended design.

Most of these trailers are not located in trailer parks, or what FEMA calls group sites, but are on private property in front of homes that have yet to be rebuilt.

GCN photo left: FEMA trailer in Biloxi still in use.

 The Coast lost nearly 75,000 homes from Katrina, and officials estimate only about 20 percent have been rebuilt. Many of the homes were small, older wood-frame rental homes or apartments that did not qualify for rebuilding grant programs. They were the homes of working-class families of moderate to low incomes; families that also represent many of the residents along the Coast that worked in retail, restaurants, the fishing industry and the service industry that are an important part of the Coast's economy and character.

The Mississippi Cottage Unit is approximately 728-square-feet with a front porch and can be installed to meet Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards, which include a ramp and special fixtures to make the homes accessible by physically handicapped persons.   

The Mississippi Alternative Housing units can be  provided in three models, one that includes a larger two bedroom version.

The cottages are the provided by Mississippi Alternative Housing Program, which is the result of a $280 million federal grant awarded to Mississippi. The goals of the program are to develop and evaluate safer and more comfortable alternatives to current disaster housing units for future disasters. MEMA is administering the 24-month long program. As many as 4,000 cottages were anticipated to be placed, but that number may never be realized.

Some Coast cities, such as Bay St. Louis and Waveland, have been concerned that the cottages are not suitable for long-term use as they don't meet city codes that require larger structures. Residents and neighbors are concerned that if the homes became permanent, they could drive down property values.

GCN Photo right: Mississippi Cottage in empty neighborhood in Biloxi's Point Cadet area.

The Mississippi Alternative Housing Program is not meant to be a permanent solution to the housing situation, but residents could purchase the homes for permanent use if they are allowed by local communities.

As of this time MEMA tells GCN that the number of Mississippi cottages placed to date are:

  • Hancock installed - 257 occupied 189

  • Harrison installed - 272 occupied 203

  • Jackson installed - 142 occupied 109

In the hardest hit neighborhoods, such as in Biloxi in the Point Cadet area, in West Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian, Waveland and Bay St. Louis, many streets are nothing more than roads and empty lots. While the debris from the hurricane has been removed, what is left are not neighborhoods and families, but only memories. Some people envisioned that these areas would be filled with Mississippi cottages, which are truly reminiscent of the style of shotgun homes that were once a common sight on the Coast. But that has not happened so far.

GCN Photo left: Empty and for sale lots in Biloxi's Point Cadet area.

The new build height requirements, home size regulations, and even lot sizes, do not meet the newer rules being required by FEMA to participate in flood insurance programs. The cities have to pass the new rules or they will no longer qualify for flood insurance for residents everywhere. The new restrictions have had a severe impact on rebuilding by even residents who have the money to do so. Many do not.

The Mississippi cottages are a problem for cities, even where they are allowed, but they do provide a solution that could work. How to make them work for affordable permanent homes is a challenge that will require regulations to change and rezoning property (a difficult process) and even purchasing property that could be reconfigured and combined to form new neighborhoods. No one though is talking like that at the official level, and no one has sought money to make those issues a reality.

Meanwhile, FEMA is in the process of closing many of the group trailer sites along the Coast, and is working with the residents in trailers to help them find more permanent housing. According to FEMA officials contacted by GCN, that work is also proving difficult as the number of apartments and affordable rental homes on the Coast remains in short supply.

Welcome to GulfCoastNews.com