A PROPOSAL THAT WOULD ALLOW FEMA TO PROVIDE permanent housing for disaster victims could catapult panelized construction into the mainstream and effectively put an end to “trailer ghettos.”

Under federal law, FEMA is limited to providing only temporary shelter. But that could change if Congress approves additional relief funding to build 20,000 “Katrina cottages” for displaced Gulf-region families.

The concept cottages, developed by a collective of new urbanist architects and designers, are quickly gaining traction as a lasting (and prettier) alternative to FEMAtrailers. Manufactured with insulated concrete foam panels and fiber-cement siding at about $100 per square foot, the structures are designed to withstand 130 mph winds and are impervious to mold.

FOR THE LONG HAUL: This Creole-revival “Katrina cottage” honors the Gulf Coast's architectural heritage, with one exception: It's storm-proof. Roughly 20 different cottage plans are currently on the boards.
FOR THE LONG HAUL: This Creole-revival “Katrina cottage” honors the Gulf Coast's architectural heritage, with one exception: It's storm-proof. Roughly 20 different cottage plans are currently on the boards.

Marianne Cusato, whose 308-square-foot prototype debuted at the 2006 International Builders' Show, is one of several designers now negotiating with Lowe's to offer units in kit or manufactured form. Over time, the cottages—which range from 300 square feet to 700 square feet—can be expanded into permanent homes or serve as studio outbuildings next to rebuilt houses.

As officials brace for the 2006 hurricane season, time is of the essence. “Our first concern is housing people in safe places that won't blow away,” says Cusato. “The second issue is permanence. The moment [one of these cottages] comes on site, it's creating assets and restoring dignity. We need to realize that what we've done in the past isn't working.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: New Orleans, LA.