Katrina victims must leave FEMA cottages

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Thousands of cottages housing hurricane victims on the Mississippi Gulf Coast will be vacated next month, even though many of their occupants aren’t ready to move and may have no place to go if forced out.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency distributed the one-, two- and three-bedroom structures to temporarily house displaced victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. There are still 2,300 occupied cottages in Mississippi, said Mike Womack, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Many of the cottages sit on residents’ lots while they rebuild wrecked homes, he said.

According to agreements between the state agency and cities, the cottages will need to be emptied by the end of January and removed by March, Womack said. Uh, is there some terrific beancounter reason why the residents aren’t part of the agreement?

Housing advocates, residents and some local officials worry that forcing out residents, many of whom are trying to rebuild their homes, will aggravate an already dire housing situation.

FEMA distributed the cottages, free of charge, as an alternative to the temporary trailers that first housed hurricane victims. The program was applauded as Mississippi officials acquired and distributed thousands of the cottages; neighboring Louisiana lagged behind.

The cottages were always meant to be temporary, not a permanent housing solution, Womack said. The structures may not withstand another powerful storm and many violate zoning rules, he said.

“We just can’t allow these cottages to stay in place where they’re unsafe or degrading the property values of homes around them,” Womack said.

Ah-hah! There’s the rub. Can’t have property values degraded by hurricane survivors continuing in temporary housing while they sort out their lives, can we?

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