Hurricanes, Oil Spills, and Discrimination, Oh My: The Story of the Mississippi Cottage

Date01 February 2011
Hurricanes, Oil
Spills, and
Oh My: The Story
of the Mississippi
by Jennifer Evans-Cowley and
Andrew Canter
Jennifer Evans-Cowley is Associate Professor and Head of
City and Regional Planning, e Ohio State University.
Andrew Canter is a Law Clerk with the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the Fifth Circuit. All opinions are the authors’ own.
Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, the Missis-
sippi Governor’s Commission for Recovery, Rebuild-
ing, and Renewal collaborated with the Congress for
the New Urbanism to generate rebuilding proposals
for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. One of the ideas to
emerge from this partnership was the Katrina Cot-
tage—a small home that could improve upon the
FEMA trailer. e state of Mississippi participated
in the resulting Alternative Housing Pilot Program,
which was funded by the U.S. Congress. Over ve
years after Katrina, what are the regulatory barriers
local governments have put in place to limit the siting
of Mississippi Cottages? Are the strategies that local
governments are using a violation of state and fed-
eral laws, including the Fair Housing Act? W hile the
Mississippi Cottage program provided citizens with
needed housing following Hurricane Katrina, there
are signicant policy and implementation challenges
to providing post-disaster housing.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast has been hit hard over the
last ve years. Hurricane Katrina brought a massive
storm surge that wiped away or severely damaged
thousands of homes, and it has ta ken ve years for ma ny
families to begin a serious recovery. Residents have faced
substantial challenges in rebuilding their lives, especially in
nding safe, permanent, and aordable housing.
e immediate response to housing provision was
through the Federal Emergency Management Agency
(FEMA), which has authority to provide temporary hous-
ing for up to 18 months.1 is Ar ticle addresses several of
the problems government housing providers and advocates
encountered in the transition from FEMA’s temporary
response into a permanent aordable housing solution
after Katrina.
e public generally supports the concept of aordable
housing, but when it comes to siting, there is often a col-
lective resistance.2 In t he aftermath of the hurricane, local
governments across the Gulf Coast engaged in exclusion-
ary zoning practices, passing ordinances that limited the
ability of people to nd appropriate housing.3
ese ordinances, supported by community resistance
to aordable housing, have exacerbated the problem of
scarce aordable housing over t he last ve years. While
communities acknowledge t he need for aordable hous-
ing, and i n many cases mention it in their community
plans,4 there ha s been a failure on the part of local gov-
ernments to enact ordinances that support t he siting of
aordable housing. One of the most signic ant aordable
housing cha llenges has related to t he Mississippi Cot tage
program, which at its peak provided free housing to nearly
3,000 families.
is Article will show how, following Hurricane Katrina,
local governments enacted discriminatory housing policies
that made it dicult for residents to site permanent Mis-
sissippi Cottages. In part, discriminatory policies may have
been put in place as knee-jerk reactions to what was seen
as a temporary housing problem. Loc al governments may
have felt that there would be a brief period after the disaster
during which people would have a need for a housing solu-
1. is 18-month deadline can be extended at FEMA’s discretion if, “due to
extraordinary circumstances an extension would be in the public interest.”
44 C.F.R. §206.110(e) (2006). is deadline was extended numerous times
after Hurricane Katrina.
2.  Stacy E. Seicshnaydre,   
, 81 T. L. R.
1263-76 (2007).
3.  Jennifer S. Evans-Cowley & Joseph Kitchen,  
   
Mississippi Cottage, I’ J. M E  H  (forthcoming
2011); see, e.g., St. Bernard Parish, La., Ordinance No. 670-09-06 (Sept. 19,
2006) (prohibiting rental of single-family residences in St. Bernard Parish to
non-family members).
4.  Jennifer S. Evans-Cowley & Meghan Z. Gough, -
, 14 J. U. D 37-41 (2009).
Copyright © 2011 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.
2-2011 NEWS & ANALYSIS 41 ELR 10137
tion while they rebuilt their homes, and that this problem
would be resolved quickly as rebuilding occurred.
Research, though, has found that it can ta ke 100 times
the emergency period and 10 times the restorat ion period
to achieve complete reconstruction.5 e temporary hous-
ing that FEM A provides is simply inadequate to meet the
recovery needs of many residents6— a dramatic improve-
ment i n a city can ta ke t wo to three times longer than
FEMA’s 18-month default housing period. Studies have
also revea led that post-disaster policies can work to elimi-
nate "less desirable" uses from a city, such as aordable
housing, which can result i n greater segregation based on
social cla ss.7
is type of recovery is unacceptable. Five years a fter
Hurricane Katrina, local governments are still working
to enact discriminatory ordinances that leave the most
socially and economically vulnerable residents without a
permanent housing solution.
is is a ll in the face of the Gulf Coast’s latest disas-
ter, the oil spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon well,
which lies directly south of Pascagoula, Mississippi. e
oil spill has had an immediate impact on the oil services,
seafood, and tourism industries. Many residents of Missis-
sippi Cottages have been aected by the oil spill, are facing
signicant economic challenges, and a re struggling to stay
in their homes.8 Where will the most vulnerable residents
of the Gulf Coast— estimated at over 4,000 residents by
advocates, as of Katrina’s fth anniversary9—live if they
are not able to keep their Mississippi Cottages?
is Article explores the history of the Mississippi Cot-
tage, with a focus on local government eorts to stop,
and then tightly restrict, t he temporary and permanent
placement of Cottages in their jurisdictions. It critically
explores the arguments and beliefs implicit in anti-Cottage
ocials’ and some loca l residents’ negative reactions to
Cottages. e Article presents a case study of the city of
Gulfport’s eorts to stop permanent Cottage placements
and segregate Cottages to lower income areas, a goal that
was successfully enacted by the City Council in June 2010.
Gulfport’s eorts are importa nt, because Gulfport is the
largest city on the Mississippi Coast and the second-larg-
est in the state, and is therefore looked to for guidance by
other Gulf Coast municipalities and municipal lawyers
evaluating their own anti-Cottage ordinance options. is
5.  J. E H  ., R F D
6. Seicshnaydre, supra note 2.
7. Id.
8. Shelia Byrd,  , S H-
 (G-B), Aug. 22, 2010, available at http://www.sunherald.
9. Rick Jervis, , USA T, Aug.
16, 2010, available at
Article concludes with a discussion of the legal arguments
why Cottage discrimination is very likely contrary to state
and federal laws. Although Cottage discrimination appears
to be unlawful (in addition to economically divisive), it has
been allowed to continue to the present day.
I. History of the Mississippi Cottage
Following Hurricane Katrina, FEMA deployed travel
trailers and manufactured homes to displaced families.
is type of temporary housing had proved sucient in
prior, shorter disasters, but the sca le of Hurricane Katrina
revealed that this housing response was inadequate in
addressing the needs of disaster victims.10
ere was simply an overwhelming demand for tem-
porary housing in Mississippi. More than 50,000 hous-
ing units sustained major or severe damage in the t hree
coastal counties of Mississippi.11 FEMA was unable to
respond immediately to the enormous demand, resulting
in dicult temporary housing conditions for residents who
lived in shelters, tents, hotels, motels, and cruise ships, or
doubled up with family or friends. ree months after
the storm, FEM A began to distribute travel trailers and
manufactu red homes. At its peak, FEM A provided more
than 49,000 trailers and manufactured homes in Missis-
sippi alone.12
In addition to t he problem of overwhelming demand,
aected households, advocates, and the public became
increasingly concerned about the negative public health
consequences of living in FEM A-provided temporary
housing. From early 2006—almost immediately after the
FEMA trailers’ deployment—residents started to report
health problems, such as frequent nosebleeds, respiratory
problems, and mysterious mouth and nasal tumors.13 At
that time, FEMA declined to systematically investigate
these claims.14 L ater government studies found that the
construction materials used in FEMA trailers emitted high
10.  David Garratt, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Disaster Assistance Di-
rectorate for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Address
at the National Building Museum, e Alternative Housing Pilot Program:
Building a Framework for Future Disaster Recovery (June 19, 2008), avail-
able at
11. e Compass Group, LLC & Southern Mississippi Planning and Develop-
ment District, ,
at 2 n.1 (Aug. 25, 2010) (adopting the FEMA and HUD damage estimates
of April 7, 2006); see Michael Womack, e Alternative Housing Pilot Pro-
gram: e Mississippi Cottage Program (Apr. 19, 2009), available at http://
12. Press Release, FEMA, FEMA and MEMA Search for Rental Proper-
ties (Nov. 1, 2006), available at
13. Spencer S. Hsu,      , W. P, July
20, 2007, available at
14. Id.
Copyright © 2011 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. reprinted with permission from ELR®,, 1-800-433-5120.

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