FEMA funds vernacular-style dwellings

Mississippi will get the lion’s share of housing designed by new urbanists; Louisiana complains.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency announced in late December that it will give Louisiana $75 million and Mississippi more than $280 million for pilot programs aimed at producing alternatives to the usual — and dismal — FEMA travel trailers and mobile homes.
Mississippi came out the big winner, probably because officials at both the state and local levels worked closely with new urbanist architects and planners for more than a year on designs and site plans for small houses that would fit Mississippi’s Gulf Coast architecturally, socially, and climatically. The bulk of Mississippi’s newly promised grants consists of $275 million to be divided between two kinds of housing: the “Park model,” which is an alternative to travel trailers, and the “Mississippi Cottage,” an alternative to mobile homes.
Both the Park model and the Mississippi Cottage are based on the vernacular-style Katrina Cottage created by Andres Duany, Steve Mouzon, and several members of the New Urban Guild, including Marianne Cusato. Another $5.9 appropriation for Mississippi is allocated to the “Green Mobile Project,” a much smaller number of dwellings that employ green building technology and exhibit somewhat more contemporary stylistic traits, such as windows that are proportioned horizontally instead of vertically.
The Park model, containing 340 square feet plus a front porch, should cost an estimated $22,295 to build in modular home factories. On top of that cost would be a $5,000 expenditure for transportation and installation, according to documents submitted by Governor Haley Barbour and the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA).
The Mississippi Cottage will be shipped from modular factories in two sizes. The smaller, two-bedroom, 704-square-foot model should cost approximately $53,940 plus $8,000 for transportation and installation. The three-bedroom, 850-square-foot cottage should cost $64,140 plus $10,000 for transportation and installation. Both Mississippi Cottage estimates include energy-performance upgrades recommended by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Without the upgrades, the cottages’ costs would drop by between $5,000 and $8,000.
All the units are designed to withstand 150 mph winds. The Park model is intended strictly as a temporary dwelling, remaining on wheels. The Mississippi Cottage, like the Park model, will be wheeled to its site, but can then be placed on a permanent foundation. All are to have durable metal roofs, cement siding, vinyl-clad windows, low-emission wood veneer interior finished walls, solid wood flooring, and recycled steel porches or decks. The cottages could eventually be purchased by their occupants.
The state has allocated $5 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds to hire additional building inspectors and permit officials to help handle permitting and other issues associated with the modular units. The state also pledged to “reconvene its design team and hold ‘implementation charrettes’ in each community with local permitting officials, elected leaders, community groups, and citizens.”
Ann Daigle, special assistant to MDA’s director, said the state has started assembling bid packets for manufacturers and is hoping to speed production by having several plants — perhaps ten in all — produce each model simultaneously. The bid packets will probably be distributed in February, production could start in April, and the first units could arrive in May.
Gavin Smith, director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal, said all of Mississippi’s submittals were developed in a lengthy collaborative process that included Looney Ricks Kiss of Memphis, Oak Ridge National Lab, Barranco Architecture and Interior Design, Viking, Mississippi State University’s College of Architecture, the Federation of American Scientists, the Rockwell Group, Tolar LeBatard Denmark Architects, PBS&J, and Waggoner Engineering.

Innovative density in Louisiana
The only FEMA-funded pilot housing project in Louisiana is the Cypress Cottage Partners Project, which will provide roughly 700 units in Lake Charles; Abbeville; the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans; and (for civilian employees) at Jackson Barracks, a historic military base straddling the New Orleans-St. Bernard boundary.
Most dwellings supplied by Cypress Cottage Partners will be four versions of “Lowe’s Katrina Cottages” — detached units ranging from 874 to 1,000 square feet, designed by Duany, Cusato, W.A. Lawrence, and Moser Design Group. The remaining units, called “Carpet Cottages,” will be essentially one-story clusters of attached units that can achieve significant density on small footprints. They are seen as especially suited to elderly or disabled people and to the multifamily market.
Carpet Cottages, designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, will consist of units ranging from 800 to 1,200 square feet, linked together a bit like a jigsaw puzzle. Fourteen units could fit onto five 50-foot lots — a quarter of a typical city block. Entry courtyards will punctuate parts of the perimeter of each group of 14. Party walls will limit the number of ground-floor windows in the core of the complex. Compensating for that, there will be sloped roofs and dormers equipped with windows to give the occupants cross-ventilation and light from above.
Cypress Cottage Partners is a consortium consisting of Cypress Realty Partners, Cusato, Duany Plater-Zyberk, The Lowe’s Companies, Dietrich Industries, The Shaw Group, and ICF International.
The 100-acre Jackson Barracks, which is said to contain the largest grouping of antebellum houses in the US, will undergo development with aid from a combination of sources: the Defense Department, FEMA, and the state. Historic buildings will be restored. Barracks from the 1960s and 1970s will be demolished and rebuilt. The project, exceeding $200 million, could spur redevelopment of nearby sections of the city.
Governor Kathleen Blanco expressed outrage that Louisiana, which suffered the destruction of 205,000 homes, compared to roughly 61,000 in Mississippi, received only 27 percent as much money as Mississippi in FEMA’s alternative housing program. FEMA officials replied that Mississippi’s proposals were far superior. Two others states struck by hurricanes have been promised smaller sums— Texas, $16.5 million, and Alabama, $15.7 million.

Information clearinghouses
Two websites have been established as comprehensive clearinghouses on Katrina Cottages. One, www.katrinacottages.com, is sponsored by the New Urban Guild, which represents many of the designers of Katrina Cottages. The other, www.katrinacottagehousing.org, is sponsored by several new urbanists who have been involved on the Gulf Coast.
Meanwhile, on East Beach in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the first Katrina Cottage to be constructed and occupied in a storm velocity zone, complying with all the new codes and FEMA standards, was completed just before Christmas. Underneath the elevated living quarters is a storage area whose walls can be peeled off by a storm surge without endangering the structure. The cottage was designed by Tolar LeBatard Denmark, which is also developing the Cottage Square in Ocean Springs.