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Miss. gets federal money to replace some FEMA trailers

Mississippi is getting more than $280 million in new federal hurricane recovery money for a pilot program that seeks to replace government-issued trailers with “Katrina Cottages.”

The cottages are safer, more permanent structures than the travel trailers or mobile homes issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The cottages also more closely resemble traditional housing.

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Thursday the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Alternative Housing Pilot Program is a giant step forward in Mississippi’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina, which hit Aug. 29, 2005.

“Helping people to live in a real home will speed Mississippi’s reconstruction efforts, not just in terms of restoring physical structures, but also by helping to improve the spirits of those still without a good home,” Lott said in a news release.

It was not immediately clear whether the state has set up a system for people to apply for some of the Katrina cottage money.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour issued a statement late Thursday saying he’s “delighted” Mississippi’s proposal is meriting the allocation.

“Companies interested in competing to build ‘Mississippi cottages’ and similar housing will have the opportunity to make proposals. All contractors for the project will be chosen on a competitive basis. We will provide more details to local officials and interested parties after we are briefed by FEMA,” Barbour said.

Congress set aside $400 million in the 2006 Emergency Appropriations Act for the pilot program, which provides the ability to examine recent and innovative approaches that may have the potential to meet housing needs in the aftermath of national disasters.

Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Texas are eligible for the money. The states submitted 29 individual plans.

A panel of experts from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the private sector reviewed the states’ submissions, selecting five proposals for $388 million that’s being split among the eligible states. Another $12 million is set aside for administration and program evaluation.

“Mississippi’s delegation worked hard to ensure Mississippians received a fair share of these funds,” Lott said. “That’s because, all along the coast, homes weren’t just damaged, but simply erased by Katrina, leaving home owners with literally nothing but a blank slab from which to begin rebuilding their lives.

“Now, Katrina’s Mississippi victims have before them another alternative and a good opportunity to once again live the American dream in a true home,” he said.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency records show that as of Dec. 11 there were 84,494 people living in FEMA trailers in 13 Mississippi counties. That’s 31,294 trailers multiplied by the average family size of 2.7 people.

Barbour sent FEMA a letter Dec. 5 asking the agency to add another year to the time Mississippians will be allowed to live in trailers issued after Katrina. Barbour says a shortage of permanent housing makes it impossible for most people living in FEMA trailers to move out before the current deadline of Feb. 28.