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The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA), St. Bernard Parish and the Mississippi governor’s office are all lobbying the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to replace the temporary travel trailers it is using to house displaced storm victims with the “Katrina Cottage,” a 400- to 750-square-foot prefabricated home that sleeps four, can be erected in days, and could eventually be expanded into a full-size permanent home.
The Times Picayune, New Orleans, reported that FEMA is spending about $75,000 to deliver and install each of the 23- to 28-foot trailers for storm victims. A Katrina Cottage can be set up for less than $60,000, manufacturers say.
And with hurricane season fast approaching, many worry about the ability of FEMA trailers to weather storms. The Katrina Cottage, which under one model would be made of concrete and steel, would be a far safer structure.
“FEMA even wanted us to devise an evacuation strategy (for the upcoming hurricane season) that included evacuating the travel trailers,” said an incredulous Walter Leger, who heads the LRA’s housing committee and is a St. Bernard resident.
“All I can do is advocate it,” Leger said of the Katrina Cottage.
FEMA officials say their hands are tied.
The 1974 Stafford Act, which governs the assistance FEMA offers in the wake of disasters, prevents the agency from spending money on permanent residential construction. Furthermore, the thousands of manufactured mobile homes that FEMA set up in Florida in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 remain today as blighted communities, something state and federal officials want to avoid.
Mark Misczak, FEMA’s Louisiana human services branch director, who has primary responsibility for housing, said he’s asked Washington to make an allowance for permanent structures, but the answer has always been no.
Misczak thinks the policy should change, but adds it would literally take an act of Congress.
“I do feel that there are limitations set forward in the law that if changed would be better suited (for FEMA) in a catastrophic event (such as Katrina). We don’t have the authority we need to address the issues we’re facing,” he said.
Meanwhile, the list of advocates for the Katrina Cottage is growing. Leland Speed, director of the Mississippi Development Authority, that state’s economic development arm, said FEMA’s travel trailers have left coastal residents in a bind.
“We’re still in FEMA trailers (seven months later). Can you imagine, 37,000 travel trailers with over 100,000 people in them (and hurricane season coming),” Speed said.
Gavin Smith, director of Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s Office of Recovery and Renewal, said the governor has asked Washington to replace thousands of trailers with Katrina Cottages.