In Grist‘s November roundup of post-Katrina bills and plans, the Other Sarah mentioned October’s Mississippi Renewal Forum, organized by Gov. Haley Barbour (R) and the Congress for a New Urbanism. As we (and when I say “we,” I mean “we have the same name so I can refer to us in first-person plural”) said then, “A comprehensive plan was produced; we’re holding our breath for full follow-through.”

Can you see where this is going already?

One of the outcomes of the forum was the Katrina Cottage, a compact, sturdy alternative to FEMA trailers. A two-bedroom cottage prototype was unveiled in Louisiana this week, joining the one-bedroom cottage being displayed in Mississippi. Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco joined Barbour and other high state officials in asking FEMA to order Katrina Cottages instead of unstable trailers. Why, why would they want to do that?

  • Cottages: “cottages.” Trailers: “trailers.”
  • Cottages: have no sheetrock, so can get wet without permanent damage. Trailers: sure, they’re waterproof-ish, but …
  • Cottages: built to withstand winds up to 200 mph. Trailers: likely to buckle under any gust over 50 mph.
  • Cottages: come in 400- and 750-square-foot versions. Trailers: 23 to 28 feet.
  • Cottages: $60,000 to deliver and assemble. Trailers: $75,000 to deliver and assemble.
  • Cottages: designed with an eye to local Creole-style architecture, and cute. Trailers: ew.
  • Cottages: able to be eventually adapted into permanent housing.

And therein lies the rub. You knew it was coming.

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Despite the fact that production bottlenecks have allowed FEMA to provide only 37 percent of the 90,000 displaced Louisiana families with housing, an obscure law is preventing them from funding the cottages: The 1974 Stafford Act, which disallows FEMA from spending money on permanent residential construction. (Presumably the Florida residents of 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, who just moved out of their trailers this month, spent 13 years in “temporary” housing.) So, since the cottages can be converted into permanent housing, FEMA is restricted from funding them.

CNU board member Andres Duany feels confident that the act will be amended to allow FEMA to fund the cottages. Well, they’d be doing a heckuva job then, wouldn’t they?

So … we’re still holding our breath for full follow-through. I look forward to giving you an update if the law is amended … but the requisite environmentalist pessimism makes me say, keep a respirator handy.

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