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Law Stands in the Way of Sturdy Katrina Cottages


In Ocean Springs, Mississippi, thousands of people are currently living in FEMA trailers. But the mayor there says it would be better if they were living in Katrina cottages. The cottages are small, prefabricated homes that can be erected in a matter of days. At 300-square feet, they comfortably sleep four. And since they were designed by architect, they come with flourishes that are pleasing to the eye.

They're also built atop foundations, unlike FEMA trailers, and there's the cost. The cottages are priced around $60,000, considerably less than the price of temporary FEMA trailers. All that sounds great to Mayor Connie Moran. She envisioned a neighborhood in Ocean Springs, full of Katrina cottages. But her plan ran into a hitch, FEMA refused to pay for it, under a federal law that prevents the agency from spending money on permanent construction.

Mayor Moran spoke with us recently about why she's still a fan of the Katrina cottage.

Mayor CONNIE MORAN (Ocean Springs, Mississippi): It is built to hurricane code. It has hardy plank, so it's moisture resistant. It has storm windows in it. It looks like an Arcadian-style metal roof, sloped front porch, white columns, white rail. It's a bright yellow. You walk into a large room that's combo living area and dining area. It has oak flooring, a little kitchenette with full-size refrigerator and small oven. And it has two bunk beds, so it can sleep four people. It has ample storage and also an attic.

NORRIS: And that porch, how important is that, especially in a place like Ocean Springs?

Mayor MORAN: Oh very important, we spend all our time down here on the verandah, you know.

NORRIS: So I understand that these Katrina cottages are much preferable to trailers, why?

Mayor MORAN: Well absolutely, they're about the same square footage, if not a bit more, but they have higher ceilings, and they're just much more appealing. And they're built to code. The electric wiring in a lot of the travel trailers are not really meant to sustain families 24 hours a day for a couple of years. So we fear for the safety of the families in these trailers and the Katrina cottage just has, in general, more heart and character.

NORRIS: I want to make sure I understand, you're also concerned about these so-called FEMA-villes, parks filled with temporary trailers that become permanent structures, permanent homes for families, for years and years and years.

Mayor MORAN: That's right, we were working with FEMA to provide some sites for emergency travel trailers. But we thought instead of erecting trailer parks, why not erect Katrina neighborhoods, with these small cottages and then allow people the option to either purchase the cottage and add on to it, or if they choose to move out, then the government could perhaps sell it to someone else, or someone who would lease it to another family.

NORRIS: Well, FEMA put up a significant speed bump in front of your plan and the cited the Stafford Act, which is a law that was designed to prevent FEMA from picking up the tab for permanent housing. Do you understand the reasoning behind that?

Mayor MORAN: I can certainly see that reasoning, and it's a cost issue of course. And it's also the definitions and the cost benefits of temporary versus permanent housing. How much sense does it make to invest millions upon millions of dollars into FEMA travel trailers that are only going to end up on the trash heap in a couple of years? Whereas you could put that same amount of money into something that added value, and that's why we thought Katrina cottage makes more sense.

NORRIS: But, you know, I understand that, but as a mayor you certainly understand the rule of law and what you're suggesting is basically sidestepping that law.

Mayor MORAN: Well what we're doing is talking to congressional leaders and seeing if they're willing to amend the act or if these cottages could actually be built within the existing parameters of the Stafford Act. I would be much happier, as mayor of this town, to have Katrina cottages rather than all of these thousands of FEMA trailers, because we're worried about the next storm season.

NORRIS: Mayor Moran, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mayor MORAN: Thank you so much, it's my pleasure.

NORRIS: Connie Moran is the Mayor of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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