The cute, cozy proposed alternative to the Federal Emergency Management Agency hurricane relief trailer along the Mississippi Gulf Coast could also be a huge boon to the second home and retirement home markets around the country.

Representatives from the Mississippi rebuilding effort have begun a huge recruiting effort to bring builders, suppliers, interior designers, developers and architects to the state’s 11 coastal communities to help put its hurricane-devastated coastline back together.

“August 29 changed our state and it changed our lives,” said Marty Milstead, executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Mississippi. “It’s nice to stop tearing stuff down and start rebuilding back up.”

Perhaps the most talked about element in the campaign is the Katrina Cottage. It is a 300-plus-square-foot permanent, expandable residence with a front porch, fiber-cement siding, steeply sloped 5-V crimp metal roof and creative interior space planning that allows four people to live in relative comfort. The cottage, painted yellow with white trim, has two sets of bunk beds, a living/dining space, a mini-kitchen, and a bathroom with toilet and shower.

The Mississippi group hopes that the cottage, and its larger family members, will replace the 50,000 residences that were lost to Katrina. Designers are experimenting with configurations that allow such a design to become the first building block in a larger home plan, or a family compound, or even an entire neighborhood development. It’s an approach that may elevate design standards for affordable housing as well as those for temporary emergency dwellings.

Officials also are getting inquiries from manufactured home parks and vacation resorts in several states that have requested plans for a variety of models. Not only would the pleasant structures be perfect for beachfronts, lakefronts and mountain meadows but they also could be placed on leased land and later moved.

“The design is one that could certainly serve a variety of purposes,” said Andres Duany, one of many architects and city planners who joined the Mississippi Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal. “But our first efforts will be focused on putting these up on 120 miles of really valuable waterfront property. It is very different from some of the places in Louisiana. This is not a low-land area that you cannot build on.”

Officials say they can build the cottages for $30,000. With help from pre-fab companies that specialize in modular and manufactured homes, coupled with the efforts of conventional “stick” builders, the structures can be put together quickly for about the same price as the temporary trailers deployed by FEMA for emergency housing.

“The scale is so large, we’ll need help from the outside,” said Gavin Smith, director of Mississippi’s Office of Recovery, Planning and Policy.

Marianne Cusato, the New York designer who created the original cottage, said her goalwas to change the definition of emergency housing from temporary FEMA trailer models to something appealing and practical enough to be permanent.

“Everybody — taxpayers, the community, property owners — wins if victims of a disaster can immediately live in a home they can be proud of and that, over time, becomes an asset rather than a liability,” Cusato said. “How can people be expected to rebuild their lives if we park them in trailers that will be discarded in 18 months?”

Cusato’s approach allows a family to purchase or build a cottage they can live in until they can construct a larger one on the same lot. Then the cottage can become a guesthouse or a studio.

Now, the race is on to recruit builders willing to relocate to the Gulf Coast region. After months of planning and developing new footprints for each of the communities, work soon will begin on replacing the homes destroyed by high winds and storm surge. To make the project more attractive, the state promises a smooth ride through the bureaucracy of permitting and inspections, as long as what is built is better than before.

“A lot of what was wiped out was rather bad construction. And it was not getting better,” Duany said. “So long as you do it well…so long as you build well…so long as there is diversity in what you do economically, they will move more quickly than you could ever imagine.

“How dispiriting it would be to all aspects of society to hear for the rest of your life that ‘it was better before Katrina?'” Duany said. “What will come back will definitely come back better.”

Tom Kelly’s new book, “Cashing In on a Second Home in Mexico: How to Buy, Sell and Profit from Property South of the Border,” was co-written with Mitch Creekmore, senior vice president of Houston-based Stewart International. The book is available in retail stores, on or get your signed copy at


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