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Prefab cottage may replace trailers as temporary housing

The 300-square-foot yellow house is being called the Tiny House and the Katrina Cottage. Whatever it’s called, the goal of this creation is to give homeless disaster survivors an alternative to FEMA trailers.

The idea to provide emergency housing that could be designed for hurricanes with proper straps, be comfortable and aesthetically pleasing came from last fall’s charrette where proponents of New Urbanism came together to explore ways of rebuilding the devastated Mississippi Coast. The cottage was one of several design ideas formulated during the week long forum. It recently had an incredibly positive reception at a trade show in Orlando.

Jackson architect Michael Barranco was involved from the beginning because he believes God wants him to help with disaster recovery. “As a citizen, I have a responsibility to be involved,” he said. “The cottage validates the charrette, and this can be the model that changes the face of manufactured housing. It’s a great joy knowing I can help.”

When an exhibitor couldn’t take a booth at this month’s International Builders Show in Orlando, Miami-based architect Andres Duany contacted Barranco and asked about building the cottage for display. It was a big order for such a small house. Construction had to be completed quickly during the holidays. It just so happened that Jackson builder Jason

Spellings had dropped off his resume at Barranco’s office.
Spellings, 30, and a crew of 12 workers built the cottage in 25 days at the State Fairgrounds. “It had to be done, and we are trying to do a good thing for the Coast and help the communities,” he said. “We’re trying to give a better housing solution than FEMA trailers.”

The young builder says he hopes the house will go into production but he can build it individually if anyone wants it.

Barranco lists local businesses that donated goods and talent to building the prototype cottage. They include Icon Artisan Homes, Bailey Lumber Co., Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City, Seabrook Paint, ADS Incorporated, Ridgeland Specialty Hardware, Rooster’s/Basil’s Restaurant, Nathan Glenn and Barranco Architecture.

“It was amazing the way it came together,” he said. “It had an incredible reception at the show and passed the hug test. The next step is to find a manufacturer and make sure we build it right. No one has ordered it yet but there are plenty of people interested in it.”

Part of that interest was from media outlets who interviewed Barranco at the trade show.

New York-based designer Marianne Cusato, who was involved in the intense brainstorming of the Biloxi forum, is also an integral part of the team that brought the cottage to fruition. She is very optimistic about producing the cottage and is presently talking to several manufacturers about it.

“Interest has been drummed up on every angle,” she says. “We’re letting people know there’s an option with a comparable price. We can start making something more substantial while spending resources on investing for the future. This can be the start of a new national way of thinking.”

The cottage can be built for a price between $25,000 and $30,000 plus the cost of the foundation. The cottage will be anchored to a conventional foundation using footings rather than placed on a slab. The good news is that the cottage is more durable and can grow with the family as a guest house, pool house, workshop or office. The cottage is the same size as a FEMA trailer but uses the same building technology as a regular house. A 500-square-foot version can be built, too.

“FEMA has done an amazing job of getting people into temporary housing, but the scope of this tragedy makes us step back and take a new look at something that’s more than just temporary housing,” Cusato said. “There are people in Florida still living in trailers who were displaced by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and there are more disasters to come.”

She said as many as 30 people were inside the cottage at the trade show and that it feels huge. “People can’t believe it’s only 300 square feet,” she said. “Just about everybody who’s seen it says it feels so much bigger.”

The house is a scaled-down version of a Mississippi-style coastal cottage, complete with front porch. There’s built-in storage under porch benches and beneath bunk beds inside. Oversized windows help give the interior space a roomy feeling. There’s kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom.

Cusato feels that, unlike a trailer, the cottage won’t end up trashed in a landfill after it’s used. “It won’t be a debris issue,” she said. “Our goal is to have quality of life for people who are displaced by providing a dignified, safe and secure housing option. I’m loving the fact that people are so excited about this cottage.”

The cottage will be on display in Ocean Springs for at least 30 days, possibly 60 days. After that time period, it will be donated to a displaced family. Cusato hopes production will be up and running by then. Ocean Springs was selected for display because Mayor Connie Moran was active in the charrette and embraced the plans that came from it.

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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