Sometime this year, construction is expected to begin on a long-delayed pilot program that could put up to 500 affordable “Katrina Cottages” on the ground in greater New Orleans. FEMA is funding this pilot through its Alternative Housing Pilot Program to the tune of $74.5 million. It has similar pilots in Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, for a total of $388 million.
However, it wasn’t until July—more than two years after FEMA allocated these funds—that the developer Cypress Realty Partners received final approval from the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) to begin building. So far only one site has been chosen for the first 75 cottages, and it remains to be seen how many cottages actually get built, as the actual number is tied to site-specific construction budgets and schedules the state must approve, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Given New Orleans’ urgent need for emergency housing after hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, the delays in this pilot program “have become deeply frustrating,” says Marianne Cusato, one of two cottage designers—the other being Andreas Duany—who are part of the Cypress development team. Louisiana initially supervised this pilot through its Housing Finance Agency, but Gov. Bobby Jindal stripped HFA of its oversight authority when he took office earlier this year. LRA now has sole control of selecting sites and deciding how the cottages will be sold, which doesn’t instill confidence to one knowledgeable source who says LRA has no experience running a housing project “and has refused to hire capable managers.”Cypress has developed 10 cottages, says Cusato: six single-family models ranging from 612 to 1,112 square feet, and four attached models ranging from 400 to 800 square feet. The cottages, which are meant to be “permanent and expandable,” she says, are stick-built/modular hybrids, with steel framing and panels. “We’re standardizing as much as possible so there’s no mistakes in the field.” The designs comply with Louisiana’s flood elevation codes, unlike the 2,800 cottages that Mississippi built, several of which flooded when Hurricane Gustav hit that state. While the cottages are arriving late in Louisiana, Cusato says their purpose goes beyond the immediate needs of New Orleans residents. “There will always be a need for emergency housing, and what we’re doing in New Orleans is creating guidelines for future disasters.”
That worries some builders, who say government-financed cottages prevent for-sale housing from being built. Wes Wyman, a contractor based in Belle Chasse, La., notes that many people who were moved from FEMA trailers into cottages in Mississippi (where those houses were meant to be temporary) have decided to live in them permanently. “I can build a three-bedroom, two-bath home for less than what those cottages were built for,” which he estimates at $140,000 per unit. Randy Nance, who owns modular builder New Gulf Homes in Gulfport, Miss., thinks the cottages “pull the rug out from under builders.” He adds, “[Gov. Haley] Barbour was in a panic to get people out of formaldehyde-laden trailers.”
Cusato thinks such criticisms are misplaced because, she says, “the need for [emergency] homes is much greater than the availability and number of cottages.”
Learn more about markets featured in this article: New Orleans, LA.