Hurricane Katrina Forest Recovery

As we work together to tackle the historic challenge that Hurricane Katrina has presented to the forestry communities of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, we hope that this blog will be a valuable resource and tool.

Monday, October 23

Louisiana Proposes Trailer Alternatives - Program May be Model for Post-Disaster Housing

Modular, boxlike homes with add-on porches, changing roof designs and floor plans, and - most importantly - quick assembly. That's the idea behind grant proposals Louisiana submitted to federal officials to replace the cramped quarters of FEMA travel trailers for residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina and the victims of future disasters.

The nation's five Gulf Coast states are competing for a pool of $400 million to test and build alternative housing for hurricane victims, a pilot program FEMA hopes can become a model for how to provide fast, temporary or semipermanent housing after the next tornado in Nebraska, earthquake in Hawaii or hurricane in Louisiana.

"Louisiana wants housing for disaster victims. FEMA wants to look at options for future disasters," said Jeff Hebert, the Louisiana Recovery Authority's deputy director of planning who worked on the state's alternative housing grant proposal.

Thousands of Louisiana and Mississippi residents - in some cases families of as many as five people - are living in the tiny quarters of the travel trailers and mobile homes FEMA provided as temporary shelter. The trailers are piled into parks and are scattered around front yards in neighborhoods that were flooded or obliterated when Katrina struck Aug. 29, 2005.
The trailers are cramped and flimsy, and they have cost FEMA hundreds of millions of dollars to buy and install.

Hurricane victims and local, state and federal officials have complained the dollars could be more wisely spent on more adaptable, less temporary housing that replaces the tiny trailers with more livable starter homes that disaster victims could expand, an idea called Katrina cottages. Congress earmarked $400 million to FEMA to create the Katrina cottage pilot program. "This Gulf Coast pilot will have national applicability, as it will help FEMA consider new ways to house people quickly and efficiently for future disasters," FEMA Director David Paulison said in a statement.

The deadline to submit proposals to FEMA was Friday. The federal agency will decide which proposals get grant money by the end of November, though environmental impact studies could delay the fund disbursement by another month or more, said Michael Widomski, a FEMA spokesman.

The Louisiana Recovery Authority, working with national experts on disaster response and housing, weeded through 45 proposals submitted by nonprofit organizations and housing companies. The authority submitted six of those ideas to FEMA in the hopes of capturing some alternative housing dollars and moving Katrina and Hurricane Rita victims out of FEMA trailers.

The state would administer the dollars and housing programs if it received any grant awards.
Priority for the housing in Louisiana would be given to those deemed critical to the state's hurricane recovery efforts: emergency responders, construction workers, teachers and education officials, health care employees and hotel workers and others in the hospitality industry.

The homes in five of the six proposals that make up Louisiana's application are similar: boxy houses that can be transported easily and come ready to be assembled speedily, with porches, columns and garages that can be added to fit the design of homes in a neighborhood. "You just piece them together," Hebert said.

In south Louisiana and New Orleans, where the architectural styles are unique and specific to parishes, towns and even streets in some cases, the homes needed to fit into the style and culture of the area, Hebert said.

But he said the manufactured housing also can be adjusted to conform with the distinctive styles of other cities and states, simply by changing the roof, moving the porch or slightly reconfiguring the boxy rooms.

The critical difference between FEMA trailers and the alternative Katrina cottages suggested in Louisiana's proposals is space. While the travel trailers are about 200 square feet, according to Hebert, the manufactured homes suggested in the LRA grant package range from 800 square feet to more than 1,200 square feet, and they can be expanded. Families could get the initial modular homes as seed houses to which they buy their own add-on rooms and space.

Hebert said the alternative homes price tags are competitive with FEMA's trailer costs. The piece-together homes cost anywhere from $50,000 to $90,000 per unit, he said. Costs for land and infrastructure would be separate.

Widomski, the FEMA spokesman, said the costs of buying, hauling and installing travel trailers averages about $40,000 for each unit and about $60,000 for each mobile home.

One of the proposals included in the state's grant application involves a nonprofit organization, Family Resource of New Orleans, that already owns a patch of land and wants to create an affordable housing community for hurricane victims. Hebert said the organization is hoping to get some grant dollars to complete and expand that plan.

The most unique concept included in Louisiana's application involves a Baton Rouge-based design and construction company that proposes a "core" model - a boxlike room that includes kitchen appliances and bathroom facilities that could be dropped onto a site to provide the basic infrastructure needed to live.

For example, in a flooded-out home in New Orleans, the podlike "core" could be inserted into a garage, dropped into a back yard or inserted at the front of a damaged house while the homeowner guts and repairs. Or the "core" could be put on a vacant site and a house could be built around it with add-on rooms.



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