August 29, 2006

Retailers back affordable homes for Katrina victims

By Karen Jacobs

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A cottage industry is growing in parts
of the U.S. Gulf Coast to help residents displaced by Hurricane
Katrina construct cheaper, easy-to-build homes.

Backed by do-it-yourself retailers, Lowe's Cos., and Home
Depot Inc., new ideas about how to build low-cost homes are
giving Katrina victims an alternative to flimsy trailers
provided by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.

In Ocean Springs, Mississippi, the first few bare-bones
homes designed by New York architect Marianne Cusato are being
dedicated this week.

Dubbed "Katrina cottages," the small houses have a bedroom,
living room, kitchen and front porch. They have metal roofs,
siding that resists mold and termites, and can withstand heavy
rain and winds of up to 140 mph (226 km per hour).

Cusato recently signed an agreement with Lowe's to sell the
designs for four types of cottages and needed building
materials at the home improvement retailer's U.S. Gulf stores
beginning this fall.

"We've received nothing but positive feedback," said
Cusato. "It's an idea that was borne out of a horrible tragedy
but is applicable anywhere."

A year after Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,500
people and inflicted more than $80 billion in damages, killed
about 1,500 people across four states, tens of thousands of
U.S. Gulf Coast residents remain in desperate need of
longer-term housing.

In Louisiana, nearly 82,000 FEMA trailers are occupied on
private and commercial sites, according to the Louisiana
Recovery Authority.

The Katrina cottages are one of many alternative solutions
as government, business and nonprofit groups grapple with how
to provide homes that are affordable but can withstand major

Though the small cottages sold through Lowe's are simply
designed -- starting at 544 square feet -- they are sturdy,
expandable and can be built in a matter of weeks.

Initial costs for the home, including the design and
materials, are estimated in the range of $45 to $55 a square
foot, Lowe's said. Buyers will have to hire a contractor,
adding to the cost, and will need land on which to build.

"We want to be a part of the long-term housing solution on
the Gulf Coast," Lowe's spokeswoman Chris Ahearn said. Lowe's
does expect to make a profit on the sales, and will eventually
offer the plans outside of the U.S. Gulf.

Meanwhile, Home Depot said it is backing a group that is
providing factory-built modular houses to residents who lost
their homes in the coastal town of Pass Christian, Mississippi.

The nonprofit "Home Again" program will initially assist at
least 15 homeowners in rebuilding. Home Depot is providing
$60,000 to $80,000 toward the cost of each home to make new
mortgages more affordable.

"Hopefully, the idea of using modular homes as a means of
rebuilding more quickly will be a model that others will want
to be involved in," said Kelly Caffarelli, executive director
of the Home Depot Foundation.