Gulf Coast Watch
Compiled by Jason Miller
Katrina Cottages Maintain Momentum
Media consultant Ben Brown weighs in on the state of affairs in the Katrina Cottage arena:
• There are now plans for at least two dozen versions, including multifamily versions. They can be site-built exactly like all other houses can be site-built. A contractor can buy the plans and bid out costs with local subs, etc. When it comes to conventional building techniques, everything depends on local costs for land, labor and materials, plus the usual zoning issues regarding minimum square footage and density issues.
• Katrina Cottage designers, especially Bruce Tolar out of Ocean Springs, Miss., are working with modular manufacturing companies to produce licensed Katrina Cottage designs that can be built at least partly in factories. No company has produced a Katrina Cottage on a product line yet, although a few prototypes have been produced through factory methods. The company most likely to get on line and in production first is GreenSteel Homes in Northwest Fla., which is building a new factory and already has contracts for Bruce Tolar-designed Katrina Cottages, including a multi-family version in the Keys. First units are scheduled to roll off the line in the first quarter of 2008.
• Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ) and its Cypress Realty Partners in the Louisiana project plan to produce workforce housing under the FEMA grant for alternative housing, which will likely be the most innovative model yet for high-density, affordable housing.
• Tow Low's (with DPZ) design for Learning Cottages shows great promise, not only as school buildings but also as flexible civic space in cottage neighborhoods. Low has some North Carolina school systems interested. But the first Learning Cottage is likely to be the one slated for construction in Bruce Tolar's Cottage Square in Ocean Springs. It will be used as a combination office/workshop space.
• The Cottage Square in Ocean Springs will eventually have some 17 Katrina Cottage units on two acres, from the original Marianne Cusato cottage to live/works and studios to Tolar's two-story design. It has become a national showcase for the potential of a true cottage neighborhood. And once again we expect it to be of immediate interest to the private sector, including many from outside the state, as opposed to local and regional governments. The Square makes for a great example of lots of things at once. It's a permanent location, with the units going in on permanent foundations. The parcel is on a bus line and only a dozen blocks or so from the historic heart of Ocean Springs, so biking, walking, and public transit are as viable as car travel. Most importantly, it's been site-planned to demonstrate the advantages of mixed-use, high-density cottage clusters as infill.
• Tolar has already moved his architecture offices to the Square. Susan, his wife and real estate agent, is moving there as well. As new units go in, they'll be leased to others so that there will be lots of activity in the Square, just like a real neighborhood. The Katrina Cottage units will be site-built and manufactured using a variety of delivery and construction techniques, so developers and individual property owners can "kick the tires." We hope to use the Square as a regular site for seminars on how to create similar neighborhoods by using new urban principles and practical, affordable Katrina Cottage-type designs.
GAO Study Denounces Housing Program
The Times-Picayune, Oct. 3, 2007 -- A new government accountability report criticizes the way FEMA handled a controversial alternative housing program, bolstering the claims of Louisiana elected officials who say the state was shortchanged.
Requested by the Louisiana congressional delegation and released publicly this week, the Government Accountability Office report questions FEMA decisions about how $388 million was distributed among Gulf Coast states trying to build alternatives to federal emergency trailers now used to house disaster victims.
A different path, according to the report's authors, could have steered more than $140 million to three separate housing projects in Louisiana, rather than the $74.5 million directed to one project in the state that still has not broken ground.
Chief among the problems with FEMA's methodology, according to the report, was a short application window last summer that frustrated the affected states; the absence of a minimum or maximum award amount published at the start of the process, thus giving too much discretion to the FEMA executive who determined the awards; and no indication of the weight that would be given to the published individual criteria used to rate the proposals.
The report notes that those practices deviated from many competitive grant programs most commonly run by federal agencies, including FEMA. It said a better process would have yielded twice as many proposals getting some financing, rather than the five getting money now, thus doing a better job of satisfying congressional intent for testing new models of disaster housing.
The complete report is available at www.gao.gov.
MEMA's Cottage Program Expanded
The Mississippi Press, Oct. 2, 2007 -- An official with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has met with leaders involved in the county's recovery to explain how the agency's Mississippi Cottages are brought in and how they benefit those residents still waiting for long-term housing.
Keith Campbell, a deputy project manager with MEMA, told members of the Jackson County Long-Term Recovery Organization that MEMA's Alternative Housing Pilot Program was never designed to replace every Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer.
To date, there are more than 200 inhabited cottages in the three coastal counties, and 47 of those are in Jackson County. Campbell said that the program was first considered a "lottery" but has now become available to the majority of people who qualify.
A $281-million federal grant is allowing MEMA to move residents living in FEMA trailers or mobile homes into more spacious and safer cottage-type homes. The program was announced in late March, and the first Jackson County recipient moved into one on June 28.
Michelle Wilson, executive director of Rebuild Jackson County, said that FEMA is reporting that 1,655 previous homeowners and 1,255 previous renters are still in FEMA-issued trailers. Rebuild Jackson County has 2,300 open cases and 700 still on waiting lists.
Ire in Gulf over Buyout Plan
The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 10, 2007 -- In Mississippi, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is proposing the nation's first regional buyout of coastal homes -- a move, some experts say, that suggests that some stretches of the Gulf Coast devastated by hurricane Katrina will not get rebuilt.
The Corps, which floated the plan in workshops with local residents in September, is expected to expand the idea to Louisiana. While it faces resistance from locals worried about the future viability of their communities, the proposal addresses a problem that has frustrated Congress for two decades: how to persuade homeowners not to rebuild in flood-prone areas.
The cost of Katrina's destruction -- and of hurricane Rita's, which hit a month later in 2005 -- could push policymakers to take a stronger stand against such rebuilding, especially as concerns about global warming and rising sea levels increase.
The Corps' plan would use the lowest flood map delineations to mark up to 17,000 homes, 10,000 of them in Hancock County, for "flood mitigation" -- or buyout. That represents roughly two-thirds of the county's single-family homes.
While the plan also affects nearby Waveland and Pass Christian, opposition has been fiercest in Bay St. Louis, where 218 new homes are being built.
On Oct. 16, the city of Gulfport officially approved the first two Community Plans under its recently adopted SmartCode ordinance. The Community Plans, which include Regulating Maps, cover the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods comprising much of the original 1905 town of Gulfport (Old Gulfport Community Plan) and the Mississippi City area (Mississippi City Community Plan).
Mississippi City was an old resort town annexed by the city of Gulfport in the 1960s. Both Community Planning Areas lie largely along the beach and were devastated by Katrina in 2005. The city is planning charrettes to create Community Plans for many other parts of the city, which grew to enormous proportions through annexation and sprawl since its founding in 1905. Response from neighborhoods within the city asking for SmartCode Community Plans has been overwhelming. The city is searching for planners with SmartCode experience to help build a world-class SmartCode administrative implementation in coming months.
Advocates Blast Proposal to Steer Housing Funds to Port Of Gulfport Project
WLOX.com, Sept. 12, 2007 -- The Mississippi Development Authority's (MDA) plan to divert $600 million from the Hurricane Katrina housing program to a state port restoration project has outraged advocacy groups who say the proposal shortchanges thousands of people still homeless on the Gulf Coast.
MDA has proposed taking the $600 million from the $2.25 billion remaining in Gov. Haley Barbour's Homeowners Assistance Grant Program, which is funded by federal block grant money. Agency officials say even with the diversion there will still be enough money in the housing fund to cover an estimated 30,000 homeowners applying for grants to restore or rebuild property destroyed by the storm.
Several advocacy groups involved in recovery efforts on the coast have criticized the state's housing program for failing to do more to help low to moderate income residents. To reduce the available funding only exacerbates the problem, said Reilly Morse of the Mississippi Center of Justice.
"It's just unfair," Morse said. "We've been told affordable housing was supposed to be a priority. Don't rob the displaced to build a port."
The MDA's proposal has to be approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of the $5.6 billion in federal disaster relief funds Mississippi received from HUD, only $100 million remains unallocated
The $600 million would be used to restore public infrastructure and publicly owned facilities at the State Port at Gulfport that were destroyed by Katrina. It would also improve the operating capacity at the port.
Architecture and planning firm Ayers Saint Gross has been awarded a contract to assist the city of Long Beach with developing a comprehensive plan and revising their sub-division regulations. During contract negotiations, the Board and Mayor voted to adopt the SmartCode citywide. The firm began its work on Oct. 23, with a kick-off meeting in Long Beach.
Through charitable contributions to the City of Pass Christian Recovery Fund, the city was able to hire a SmartCode planning team to run a Summer of Planning Series from July through October of this year. In a series of public workshops, the planning team created Community Plans, including Regulating Maps covering the entire extent of the city. The proposed maps will be considered soon for adoption by the Board of Aldermen, and the city hopes to abandon its conventional code altogether within a few months and become an all-SmartCode town.
Pass Unsure about Wal-Mart's Return
Mississippi Sun Herald, Oct. 18, 2007 -- Eight months after an announcement that Wal-Mart would return to this storm-damaged city, a company spokesman said Wednesday that executives are still unsure if and when they would rebuild the store Katrina destroyed.
Wal-Mart spokesman Tice White said Oct. 17 that company officials at this point are "committed to returning" to the Pass, but as a result of corporate meetings this summer, the company made changes to its policy on building new stores.
The plan calls for a more strict analysis that includes local population figures and other factors before construction begins. Company officials are currently gathering data to determine whether there are enough potential employees and customers to support the store.
"At this point, I can't give a definitive timeframe or even definitive yea or nay," White said.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has said officials have made it clear the store's return is crucial. "Wal-Mart's return to Pass Christian is critical to the city's recovery, and it is also critical to the entire Gulf Coast coming back bigger and better than ever," Barbour said in a statement. "We have been working with Wal-Mart and have urged them to make a positive decision as soon as possible."
Harrison County is busy with its long-range planning efforts for the communities north of Interstate Highway 10. These plans should wrap up by the beginning of 2008. After completing these plans, the county will begin to develop its comprehensive plan and a Sand Beach Master Plan.
The Harrison County Library System is making significant strides toward recovery and rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Donations and funds to the tune of approximately $600,000 have been received from the Mississippi Library Commission (which coordinated donations from around the U.S.) and the American Library Association, which started a hurricane relief fund. Every state in the Union, save six, has donated to the cause. 100,000 books and other items also have been donated to help rebuild the library system's collections.
The library system has opened four existing branch libraries and is using three temporary library trailers provided by the Gulf Coast Libraries Recovery Project as its Biloxi, Gulfport and Woolmarket branches.
Harrison County is in the final stages of acquiring a 5-acre parcel of land for a new headquarters library. The site will be located just north of I-10 in the Orange Grove area of North Gulfport, on old Highway 49. Library officials are still discussing the possibility of a downtown Gulfport Library. Pass Christian and Biloxi have decided to build new library facilities in their respective locations.
To accomplish its rebuilding goals, the Harrison County Library System will need more funding than will be provided by insurance settlements and FEMA. Anyone wishing to contribute to the cause can send a tax-free donation to:
Harrison County Library System
P.O. Box 4018
Gulfport, MS 39502
Louisiana Cottages Are a Go
The Times-Picayune, Sept. 27, 2007 -- Louisiana's alternative housing program for hurricane and flood victims appears finally to be moving forward, but not before one more public tiff about how the state housing board and private contractors will divide duties and money as the structures go up.
Ten months after federal officials announced Louisiana's $74.5 million share of a $400 million federal grant for the Gulf Coast program, the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency approved a final contract proposal Sept. 26 for the private consortium expected to build more than 530 Louisiana Cottages and "carpet cottages" in disaster zones.
The number of Louisiana homes could climb by a few dozen under a last-minute budget change won by Treasurer John Kennedy, who successfully urged his fellow housing board members to shift more than $2.6 million originally slated for new agency personnel and counseling services. The money will be put it in a reserve that could be tapped for more construction.
The plan calls for a $59.8-million construction budget to be managed by Cypress Realty Partners, which plans to subcontract with Lowe's, the Shaw Group and Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. Cypress representatives indicated that they will sign the contract.
The remaining $12 million will cover rental assistance for occupants, four years of additional personnel for the agency and marketing, legal fees and other administrative costs.
Jindal Elected as New Governor
The New York Times, Oct. 20, 2007 -- Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, a conservative Republican congressman from the New Orleans suburbs and the son of immigrants from India, has been elected Louisiana's governor, becoming the state's first nonwhite governor since a Reconstruction-era figure briefly held the office 130 years ago. The incumbent, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, did not seek reelection.
Jindal will be the nation's first Indian-American governor when he takes office in January. Carrying with him a reputation for efficiency -- critics say cold-bloodedness -- Jindal campaigned as a cautious reformer, promising a more ethical government, for example, with greater transparency from lobbyists and legislators. His extensive resume helped him project an image of competence, as did his detailed if conventional policy prescriptions -- both evidently appealing to voters here weary of missteps in government since Hurricane Katrina.
He takes over what is now the nation's poorest, most uneducated and most unhealthy state, by a number of important measures. Jindal has promised to focus resources on the state's ports, roads and research universities, which have received little state investment. As a fiscal conservative, Jindal has had much to say about what he terms "out-of-control spending," but little about a regressive tax structure that relies heavily on sales taxes. It is unclear what effect his appointment will have on new urbanist attempts to rebuild New Orleans and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Brief updates on Mississippi Gulf Coast communities' progress toward renewal can be
e-mailed to Jason Miller at email@example.com.
Gulf Coast Renewal Online
Bookmark these Web sites to stay on top of rebuilding efforts along the Gulf Coast:
Center for Planning Excellence (La.)
The Clarion-Ledger (Miss.)
Congress for the New Urbanism
Governor’s Office of Recovery and Renewal (Miss.)
Katrina Cottage Housing
Mississippi Governors Commission
Mississippi Renewal Forum
New Urban Guild
New Urban News
NOLA.com (“Everything New Orleans”)
South Mississippi Sun Herald
Times Picayune (New Orleans)
Unified New Orleans Plan
Suggestions for additions to this list may be sent to Jason Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.