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Katrina Cottages – A Solution for New Orleans?

Shotgun Blues?
I watched the New Orleans Saints lose at home in the Superdome to the Tennessee Titans in the Monday night game. For a minute, I though Rex Grossman had donned a Saints jersey, as the Titans nabbed four interceptions. At various points during the telecast, ESPN showed shots of New Orleans neighborhoods in various states of recovery from Hurricane Katrina. These shots were coupled with comments from the sportscasters telling us what we mostly knew – parts of New Orleans are relatively normal again, particularly the touristy areas, but some neighborhoods, especially the infamous Lower 9th Ward, are still in horrible shape. Apparently, around 14,000 people had lived in the Lower 9th prior to the storm, but there are only about 1,500 living there now. There's a Musician's Village that has been created to provide housing for the scores of musicians who lost everything and who contribute to the uniqueness of New Orleans's culture.

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Then Michelle Tafoya, during a break in the action, tipped me off to a movement that I hadn't been aware of. There is a movement underway to replace destroyed homes and FEMA trailers with permanent houses. Let's meet the "Katrina Cottage."

Make no mistake, these homes are small and humble. The basic model is not significantly larger than a typical FEMA trailer, but they are made to last and they can be added on to in a modular fashion, so a home can grow as the neighborhood regenerates. In fact, they resemble the "shotgun" houses commonly found in the New Orleans area.

According to katrinacottages.com, "The original hope to use federal money to subsidize Katrina Cottages as trailer alternatives remains alive. Congress has appropriated $400 million for alternative housing models that are likely to include Katrina Cottages; but government wheels turn slowly. In the meantime, the designers behind the Katrina Cottage movement have concentrated on making an increasing number of authentic models available through a variety of private-sector sources, whether through plans for home builders or through certified manufacturing processes for factory-built cottages. Lowe's, the national building supply company, is introducing kit versions of four Katrina Cottage designs."

The organization's founders realized that, "rebuilding with nothing but construction speed as a goal likely would create a Coast that would be a regrettable place for centuries. So they added the goals of building houses of excellent design, and houses that would be appropriate to the regional conditions, culture, and climate. In other words, the houses should look and act as if they belonged on the Gulf Coast."

The katrinacottages.com site says that at the time that the designs for the FEMA trailers were made public, the costs to construct, deliver, install, maintain, and decommission after 18 months was approximately $70,000. Once the $70,000 is spent on a trailer, both the hurricane survivor and the taxpayer end up with nothing in the long run since the vast majority of the trailers will have outlived their usefulness and will be decommissioned. The extended use of trailers that were designed for limited use to begin with would probably result in further maintenance expenses. Some Katrina Cottage models are designed to last for 100 years or more. And they can be purchased for tens of thousands of dollars less than the $70,000 total cost a FEMA trailer, even as low as $35,000.

And speaking of FEMA trailers, it might come as no surprise that the contracts that FEMA issued for their construction were issued on a no-bid basis, possibly costing the American taxpayers over $1 billion, according to FoxNews.com (!). Also, per the FoxNews.com article, "Among the winners was joint venture PRI-DJI, which received $400 million worth of contracts. That prompted complaints from small and locally operated firms who said they were unfairly shut out. DJI stands for Del-Jen Inc., a subsidiary of Fluor, one of the original, no-bid winners which has donated more than $930,000 to mostly GOP candidates since 2000."

It looks like the Katrina Cottages could play a significant role in reviving New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, especially if the cost/benefit relationships hold true.

Funny what one can learn by watching Monday Night Football.

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