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Cottages could become permanent on coast

Cottages erected after Hurricane Katrina could become a permanent fixture in Jackson County as officials try to overcome a shortage of affordable housing nearly three years after the deadly storm.

The Jackson County Board of Supervisors is considering allowing some residents in the homes, known as MEMA cottages, to remain permanently in what was intended as temporary housing.

Mike Womack, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, told the board Monday that permitting residents to keep the cottages in certain areas could reduce the demand for affordable, permanent housing. If approved by the board, the cottages would likely be allowed to stay only in county areas zoned for mobile homes and located on private property.

Womack said all MEMA cottages are supposed to be removed by March 2009. The cottage program will likely stop with about 3,100 units. The agency received a $280 million grant to see if the state could come up with a better alternative to FEMA trailers.

If the homes were left permanently, MEMA would secure the house to a concrete slab and possibly raise the elevation of the structures in flood zones.

Supervisor John McKay wanted the units in Gulf Park Estates in St. Martin added to the list of homes that could remain. However, Womack said those homes are in trailer parks and he did not want MEMA cottages on commercially owned property.

McKay said the area is not a traditional mobile home park and the land is privately owned.

There are 139 cottages on privately owned property that could be affected, Womack said, adding that 69 cottages are on land owned by residents and 61 are on land owned by family members of residents.

Womack’s office will develop another map with the addition of the cottages McKay requested and present it and a transfer of ownership plan in 30 days.

Womack said if supervisors approve permanent status for the cottages, his office could transfer ownership to a private, nonprofit group that could help residents with financing, insurance and other needs, or the county could assume ownership of the cottages.

He said the only requirement is residents must be victims of Hurricane Katrina and are allowed to live in the cottage for two years after the transfer date without it being sold. He said money derived from the sale would go to the cottage owner.

“I don’t know if you have the staff to undertake it and you would not make any money,” Womack said. “Most of these people can only pay $200 to $300 dollars a month and would have to have special financing.”

Womack said there are 576 cottages throughout Jackson County and he will be visiting each city with the same request.

“But, it will be very limited in the cities,” Womack said. “There is very little area that’s zoned for mobile homes.”