January 29, 2006 Sunday
By John Handley, Special to the Tribune
Cottage pitched as one small step toward rebuilding the Gulf Coast
The little yellow
house may have an impact far larger than its size.
Only 300 square feet, about the area of a one-car garage, it was toured
by thousands of conventioneers at the International Builders Show held
here Jan. 11-14. Called the Katrina Cottage, it is a prototype for emergency
housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the Gulf Coast
and New Orleans Aug. 29.
Displayed in the parking lot of the Orlando Convention Center, the cottage
was just one innovation at the convention attended by 100,000 members
of the National Association of Home Builders. Many are eyeing potential
business, but the rebuilding of the cities ravaged by the hurricane must
wait for complex planning to be completed.
In the meantime, these developments emerged from the show that could affect
the revitalization: Planning for rebuilding Mississippi's Gulf Coast is
far ahead of Louisiana's blueprint for New Orleans. Manufactured housing
-- concrete, log and modular homes and panelized construction -- could
be a more immediate solution to the need for new housing.
As for the Katrina Cottage, it will be transported to Ocean Springs, Miss.,
one of the hard-hit Gulf towns, and donated to a homeless family. "People
say the cottage is cute. More than that, it could be the start of something
major," said Marianne Cusato, its designer and owner of Cusato Cottages
in New York. "It could be a substitute for FEMA trailers, which are
not long-term solutions. But cottages of this type have the potential
to be expanded and used as permanent residences. "They cost from
$25,000 to $35,000 and are hurricane-rated to withstand winds of 130 miles
an hour. The 300-square-foot model can be for a family of four, but they
can be 600 square feet and larger," she said. "We're starting
to talk with manufacturers now. It would take about two weeks to assemble
them at a home site."
Though small, the cottage was crowded with as many as 30 people at a time
during the show. It can be factory-built or stick-built on-site.
affordable doesn't have to be ugly," Cusato said.
The Katrina Cottage was introduced by Andres Duany, architect and planner
and advocate of New Urbanism, a type of traditional town planning. Duany
said he was asked by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour to coordinate the
planning for rebuilding 11 of the state's coastal towns. The Gulf Coast
needs more than 50,000 new dwellings, according to the commission. "The
little Katrina Cottage was built in 20 days. A lot of companies raised
money and gave products for it," said Duany, a principal of Duany
Plater-Zyberk & Co., based in Miami, and leader of the Mississippi
Renewal Forum. "Families can live in this type of house and add onto
it over time. Trailers, though, are hideously ugly. They cause social
problems and lower real estate values," Duany said.
He predicted the Mississippi Gulf will be rebuilt because the property
along the 120-mile coast is so valuable. "The Gulf will come back
fast. It offers a tremendous opportunity for builders, and it should be
easy for them to get permits. This is a pivotal point for the development
industry," Duany said. "The Gulf is entirely different from
New Orleans, where the low-lying land never should have been built on,"
Duany said. He added, though, that the Katrina Cottage could be adapted
to New Orleans. "It would work architecturally and historically there."
The Big Easy is not facing an easy road to recovery. New Orleans' population
of 470,000 plummeted after Katrina. Reconstruction costs have been pegged
at $100 billion or more. A massive amount of new and rehabbed housing
will be needed to attract former residents. Instead of waiting for damaged
neighborhoods to be cleared, one national home builder is considering
putting up housing on the city's periphery.
KB Home, based in Los Angeles, hopes to construct homes on 3,000 acres
in Jefferson Parish, a 30-minute drive from New Orleans. "We hope
to break ground in six months," said Caroline Shaw, senior vice president
of corporate communications for KB Home. "The homes will be market
rate with a mix of entry-level and move-up designs.
"People want to come back to the heart of the city, but that's not
possible yet," Shaw said. She said it is too early to reveal details
of the project, but it could be in the range of 8,000 to 10,000 homes.
One resident of the New Orleans area estimates the rebuilding timetable
this way. "The removal of debris, including 200,000 cars, will take
the rest of 2006. The city will decide what to build and where to build
it in 2007, and construction will start in 2008," said Richard Wallace,
vice president of communications for the Southern Forest Products Association,
based in Kenner, La.
"This is a crippled city that will need a lot of federal government
help. The damage was not caused by rain, but by heavy winds and water
that broke through poorly designed and built levees," Wallace said.
Not only is New Orleans below sea level, but also much of the housing
that was destroyed was built on land that was marsh and swamp. One New
Orleans native has doubts about the future of the city. "They may
rebuild the poverty," said Joey Garon, who left New Orleans in 1990
and is now vice president of operations for the Bonita Bay Group, a real
estate development firm in Bonita Springs, Fla.
"New Orleans had a lot going for it -- the music, bars, restaurants,
the history. But it was decaying before Katrina and suffering from political
mismanagement. They knew a hurricane was coming sometime and did nothing
to prepare for it," Garon said. "Now public housing has a chance
to be rebuilt in a positive way. But will it happen?"
Getting started on rebuilding could be hampered by shortages of both building
materials and skilled labor in the Gulf region. Ready to solve these problems
are the manufacturers of systems-built housing that is trucked to the
site and assembled. "I'm excited about participating in the rebuilding,"
said Buddy Jenkins, CEO of Safeway Homes, a modular house builder based
in Pearl, Miss. After a modular home is delivered from the factory, it
only takes a day or two to set it up on the foundation, and then two or
three weeks to install the plumbing, electrical and porches."
He added that modular houses are priced about the same as site-built homes
and appreciate in the same way.
"There's been a surge in manufactured homes after the hurricanes,"
said David Seiders, chief economist of the National Association of Home
Builders. "Rebuilding takes a lot of time, and the situation in New
Orleans is worse because of the flood damage. A lot of people will not
go back at all. Issues now include insurance and fixing the levees. I
don't see much rebuilding there soon," Seiders said. He estimated
the total of new houses to be built this year as a result of the hurricanes
will be 45,000. "That's not a large number, considering the devastation."
Charles Bevier, editor of Systems Built Magazine, estimates that 250,000
to 500,000 new homes will be needed for reconstruction. Bevier noted,
though, that some misconceptions persist about modular. "In the South,
when you say modular, many people think FEMA trailer." "We'll
be a huge supplier in the revitalization," said Michael Wnek, senior
vice president of Palm Harbor Homes, a modular builder based in Plant
City, Fla. "We've already shipped 700 to 800 to the Gulf. "We
can replicate housing in the New Orleans style. A lot of them will be
built on stilts. If they're smart, they'll be 8 feet above the water level
of a 100-year flood," Wnek said.
All rebuilding on the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be facilitated by Gavin
Smith, who recently was appointed by the governor as director of the office
of recovery, planning and policy. "The Mississippi coast is almost
like a clean slate," he said. "Rebuilding will be from the ground
up. "We need builders to take into account the architectural history
of the area. We need craftsmen to replicate the historical properties
that were lost. Thousands of existing buildings will be elevated on their
foundations. New flood advisory maps will help. It's going to take years
to do the job," Smith said.
The Mississippi Renewal Forum made recommendations for 11 communities
hit by the storm -- Gulfport, Biloxi, Bay St. Louis, D'Iberville, Pass
Christian, Gautier, Moss Point, Ocean Springs, Pascagoula, Long Beach
One of the suggestions is to grind up storm debris and use it to raise
low areas. This was the strategy used after the Great Chicago Fire of
1871, when debris from destroyed Loop buildings was dumped at the lakeshore
to form Grant Park. The forum also released a pattern book for rebuilding
that reflects the architectural traditions from French, Spanish and English
The house plans for the Gulf point out that builders must check the FEMA
requirements for minimum heights above sea level, to limit damage from
the next hurricane. "The coast is vulnerable," Smith said. "We
need to rebuild it stronger than it was before."
- - -
Starts at 300 square feet
$25,000 to $35,000
Can withstand winds up to 130 m.p.h.
Suited to expansion
Adaptable to local architecture
Available in studio and one-bedroom configurations