You know those 90,000 FEMA trailers that the President of the United States seems, somehow, powerless to get moved off the lot in Arkansas? Maybe it's a good thing the federal bureaucracy is so hapless, after all.
That's because the delay has given space to an alternative approach to housing families dislocated by Hurricane Katrina: the Katrina Cottage. The one- and two-story, easily fabricated cottages have at least three advantages: they're cheaper to put up and install than the trailers - probably about $60,000 each, compared to the $75,000 taxpayers are being asked to fork over for each trailer; they're bigger and look a whole lot nicer; and, oh yes, they've been designed to stand up to high winds and floodwaters, a feature that the trailers--I'm sure this will stun you--do not possess.
All of this has led Haley Barbour and Kathleen Blanco--the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana--along with the Louisiana Recovery Authority and the government of St. Bernard Parish to lobby FEMA to go with the cottages instead of the trailers.
There's a problem, though.
It seems that the cottages are actually designed to be expanded upon - that is, a homeowner using one as temporary housing could also use it as the base for a new, permanent home. This would seem to be the sort of thinking you really want to encourage in disaster assistance, but according to a 1974 act governing federal disaster relief, FEMA is not allowed to fund permanent housing.
The cottages are the work of a group of architects allied with the Congress for the New Urbanism, which has seized on the devastation wrought by Katrina to press for the redesign of communities that are being rebuilt. The first, 400-square-foot model, which was unveiled last October by New York architect Marianne Cusato, was joined last week by a 750-square-foot model conceived by a host of New Urbanist luminaries, including Andreas Duany, and spearheaded by the president of the Louisiana chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Steve Oubre.
Duany seems certain that the law can be tweaked to make room for the cottages. "It's an interpretation more than a substantial change," he told the Baton Rouge Advocate.
Not to be cynical, but if the President professes himself as stumped as the average Joe when it comes to getting the trailers moved, as he did at his press conference last week, then what hope does a mere architect have?