Cottages are lightning rod in storm over Gulf's future look
Many Mississippi towns want the tiny homes gone by next spring, but some envision them as a cornerstone of the post-Katrina coast.
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The antithesis of the showy mansions that formerly dominated the Gulf beachfront, the Mississippi cottages nonetheless are reminiscent of the earliest forms of housing on the storm-prone coast, historians say.Skip to next paragraph
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"All the the other styles of houses we have developed from need, and this is a clear and obvious need," says Bay St. Louis historian Charles Gray. "The need now is for a comfortable, secure, climate-controllable house, and these little Creole or Mississippi cottages are all very suitable for that."
That sense of comfort is sustaining residents such as Loretta Flowers of Gulfport. To her, the cottage has become a lifeline to the property where her house once stood. She can't afford to rebuild on her own, and the lines are long at the volunteer centers that still provide free labor and some free materials to displaced families, she says. But like many others who remain in the cottages or in trailers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the option of leaving the Gulf is not one she's willing to consider.
"I'm just praying that I will get a home built, but so far hasn't anything happened," says Ms. Flowers. "This cottage is the best thing I have now. But this is my land and I'm going to be here, right here."
East of Gulfport, in Biloxi, city officials are reconsidering the March deadline for cottage removal, as a growing number of residents say they want to buy the cottages from the state and keep them as residences or guest houses. If Biloxi lets the cottages stay, that's likely to put pressure on towns up and down the coast to do the same, experts say.
MEMA, meanwhile, promises that the cottages can be moved to permanent foundations. The last thing the state wants is to mothball a huge inventory of used cottages, which cost $40,000 apiece. "MEMA is calling towns frantically, saying, 'What are we going to do with 4,000 cottages we've got to get rid of?' " says Jeff Bounds, an adviser to Pass Christian's rebuilding effort.
The cottage debate has laid bare a poignant fact about the nature of Mississippi's recovery: Real progress toward fortifying the coast depends in large part on residents and civic leaders overcoming nostalgia for what used to be.
"Common sense says we should build stronger than some of what we're seeing now," says Mr. Rizzardi, the Pass Christian alderman, speaking of new construction in general. "There are a number of structures that barely meet the [building] code, but you come to a point where you say, what do we have to require, what's fair?"
For Russell Voorhies in Waveland, fair means that officials will accept his cottage as more than a set of temporary walls. The tiny house represents enough of a future that he says he's willing to fight for his option to buy it and keep it on his beachfront lot.
"This is home now," he says. "At least it's the same view as before."
• Mark Thomson contributed reporting.