Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Katrina Cottage Conundrum

Actually, what FEMA does is the conundrum. I just liked the alliteration.

The T-P asks, “Where would you rather live?” Your choices: a “Katrina Cottage” or a temporary trailer.

Obviously, a resident would want to live in the safer and homier Katrina Cottage. And, you would think that FEMA would want that resident to live in the safer and *cheaper* of the two:
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.
Some have already extolled how well the Katrina Cottage satisfies our current housing need.

But, FEMA always has an excuse as to why they are powerless to do the right thing:
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.
Katrina Cottages can be converted into permanent housing. They don’t have to be. But, they can be, so FEMA says they can’t use them.

However, the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (pdf), which amended the Stafford Act, does specify a situation when the federal government can provide permanent housing:
The President may provide financial assistance or direct assistance to individuals or households to construct permanent housing in insular areas outside the continental United States and in other remote locations in cases in which-- (A) no alternative housing resources are available; and (B) the types of temporary housing assistance described in paragraph (1) are unavailable, infeasible, or not cost-effective.
This “plain English” explanation of the amendment definitely makes the Katrina Cottage the clear choice for FEMA:
[The amendment] Explicitly authorizes standing FEMA policy to build permanent housing structures when it is not reasonable or cost-effective to import direct housing units (i.e. Mobile Homes and Travel Trailers).
So, the only reason FEMA can’t provide permanent housing to New Orleans is that pesky geographical requirement of being “in insular areas outside the continental United States and in other remote locations.” Of course, if we accept Bush’s continuing reference to the Gulf Coast as “that part of the world,” then we are *not* part of the USA.

Conundrum solved. Let the Katrina Cottages commence.


Mark said...

Once again the Blogospherians are days to months ahead of the T-P. Building Big Easy and Veritas et Venustas were on this one back in January.

We could rebuild vast swaths of NOLA with these puppies for less than $100,000 a pop.

Polimom said...

Yes, there would seem to be enormous advantage to the Cottages... except that they are designed to be permanent, aren't they? This paragraph is "lifted" from Kirch:

"Although I have to admit that the cottage have one disadvange that the trailer doesn't. In order for the cottages to become permenent, a permenent foundation must be designed and built. And given the soil conditions in SE Louisiana, that means a licensed civil engineer and in many cases, piles which can add several thousands of dollars to cost of the cottage as well as slowing down the delivery process. But even with all that, it still should be cheaper and delivered sooner than the trailers."

My interpretation of this (and it could be wrong), is that if the Cottages aren't made permanent, they would be as scary in a major storm as the trailers.

Another question, though, has to do with the "architecture". The Cottages are cute - but would NOLA end up with a couple hundred thousand identical little houses?

da po' boy said...

Whether they are permanent or temporary is outweighed by the fact that the are cheaper and safer (or as safe) in the short term. FEMA is concerned with the short term. If they can be converted or, with some pre-planning on the homeowner's part, built to be permanent is a bonus. And speaking of "a couple hundred thousand identical houses" in NOLA, I kind of like shotguns (ha! ha!).

When contracts for trailers were given out right after the storm, I wonder if the Katrina Cottage company was one of the bidders, or in some cases, no-bidders. If the process had had more vetting, we might have answers to some of these questions.

Michael said...

Re: FEMA's excuse--considering this administration's position on warrantless wiretapping, it seems as if they'd be, no pun intended, on rock solid ground in authorizing construction of Katrina Cottages, as your research demonstrates.

As for the aesthetics...if I remember right, VERY small "temporary" shelters were built in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906; however, some survived for many years (picture here, you can search for more info by typing "san francisco earthquake shack" or cottage into the engine of your choice--in fact, here's an article comparing earthquake shacks to Katrina cottages).