This site is is hosted by the New Urban Guild, a group of architects and designers who were some of the key people in the Katrina Cottages initiative, so it is naturally built on our recollections and involvement with the initiative. In 2006, Marianne Cusato led another branch of the initiative. Please see her perspectives and products here.

The Katrina Cottage Comeback

The Katrina Cottages were a great story in 2006, with lots of good press as Hurricane Katrina recovery work got going. For a while, it seemed as if they might help transform the manufactured housing industry. I published Gulf Coast Emergency House Plans: The First Book of Katrina Cottages in March 2006, and we were flooded for months with calls. While the cottages were designed (mostly by New Urban Guild members) to be delivered in all the normal ways (site-built, panelized, modular, and manufactured) the vast majority of the calls were from people who were looking to buy a manufactured cottage. I worked for the next two and a half years to try to get Katrina Cottages on the assembly line, but it was a much tougher proposition than I thought in the beginning.

In the early autumn of 2008, the CEO of one of the manufacturers told me “Steve, I can’t just start manufacturing these cottages in my existing factories. They are so different from what we build now that they not only require a different set of construction materials, but they also will require a different set of employees. We have a current culture of building mobile homes, not manufacturing architecture. And so we’ll need entirely new factories, with an entirely new workforce that has a different culture of building. That’s an investment of millions of dollars.” The Meltdown came shortly thereafter, and then the Great Recession, so he was right to be hesitant. Here’s the rest of the story of the decline of the cottages.

Yes, several thousand “Mississippi Cottages" were manufactured, but the inertia of an established industry was just too great to overcome, and the Mississippi Cottages were stigmatized by many as “decorated trailers,” to the point that several communities that really needed them turned them down instead out of fear that their storm-ravaged towns would become trailer parks.

2009 dawned with the Great Recession in full swing, and the New Urban Guild (which had hosted the Katrina Cottages initiative at the beginning) convened a summit in Miami to launch Project:SmartDwelling. The idea was to produce designs that were so smart that they could entice prospective homeowners to build houses half the size they thought they needed. I designed SmartDwelling I and it was published in the Wall Street Journal April 27. SmartDwellings are the direct descendants of Katrina Cottages, and are designed by some of the same people. But the Katrina Cottages themselves? They faded from view.

Until now. Quietly and behind the scenes, some of the original designers kept working with manufacturers to get them on the assembly line. I am aware of three such long-running initiatives, and a fourth manufacturer is stepping up to the table as well. And twelve years after Katrina, we’re having another severe hurricane season causing many people to think about Katrina Cottages again. I won’t identify any of the manufacturers, as they’re not quite ready to announce their cottages, but stay tuned to this page and I’ll make the announcements here as soon as they each go public.

~Steve Mouzon

© New Urban Guild 2017