Houses for the Village

The houses proposed for the Academic Village came about in an unusual way, but first, a little history.

While there has been much discussion in Seaside over the years regarding the building of a performing arts center with supporting housing on the Lyceum, one thing has always stood in the way:  a lack of funding.  Three separate visioning sessions, or charrettes, were held from 2001 – 2004 by William Rawn Architects. Many community residents and business owners took part in these charrettes; however, none of the plans have been implemented thus far.

After I was hired as the executive director of the Institute in September 2010, I was given a directive from the Board of Governors to make education a high priority for the upcoming years. However, while the will to make this happen was evident, the means were not clear. Everything always came back to the issue of housing.

It came my attention in late February that a group of MEMA cottages were being auctioned off in Mississippi with prices estimated to be well under $20,000/cottage.  Hmm. Even after adding on costs for hauling them to Florida, setting them in place and rehabbing the interiors to suit our needs, this might be something we could realistically make work. The means for creating an academic village suddenly looked possible.

It may seem a bit risky to some to purchase buildings through a broker sight unseen. However, these particular cottages were well known to me and several of my colleagues. Six years ago this coming Fall, a group of approximately 100 of of us were involved in post-Katrina planning for 11 cities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. One of the great outcomes of those planning charrettes was the design of small cottages to replace the existing FEMA trailers that had long been derided as a less than attractive, unhealthy temporary housing option for natural disaster victims.  These proposed replacement dwellings were given the name “Katrina Cottages” and were at once embraced by the public as a wonderful alternative to the FEMA trailers.

While many of the architects at the charrette came up with plans for the 300-square-foot FEMA replacement, it was Marianne Cusato’s drawing that caught the eye of charrette leader, Andres Duany, and was selected to be published in the Mississippi Sun-Herald.

At just about 300 square feet, the original Katrina cottage is a small, sturdy house that can be delivered at the cost of a FEMA trailer. It was designed to be temporary or permanent.  The Katrina cottage website ( describes the history behind this endeavor to change the post-disaster, government subsidized model as follows:

“The original Katrina Cottage … arose as a solution for post-disaster housing during the Mississippi Renewal Forum, which took place in Biloxi, Miss., in October 2005, six weeks after Hurricane Katrina. Among the 170 participants, there were a dozen architects present who designed a series of small houses, making the plans available to the people of Mississippi. The Katrina Cottage Committee was formed to provide design that would make better use of [the Federal funding set aside] for … housing needs after Hurricane Katrina and for future disasters.

The State of Mississippi, through the Governor’s Office for Recovery & Renewal, took the initiative to apply for a substantial grant for the purpose of addressing alternative post-disaster housing, and the result of the grant proposal in Mississippi was the creation of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) cottage. At the peak occupancy period, over 2,900 of these cottages were occupied. They came in one-, two- and three-bedroom models.

Several MEMA cottages have been permanently placed in Cottage Square (shown below), the first Katrina cottage neighborhood located on Government Street in Ocean Springs, Miss., and owned by Bruce Tolar, an architect who participated in the Mississippi Renewal Forum.

As a result of the post-Katrina planning by the new urbanists, the Katrina cottage industry moved forward. While there are many varieties available today, Katrina cottages have some common elements:  They are all to be built with hurricane-resistant materials and are designed to withstand hurricane force winds. They must meet the International Building Code (IBC) as adopted by Mississippi and Louisiana and may be built of any technology or delivery system, including mobile home standards, pre-manufactured elements, panelization, or site-built of any material.

The Park Model, which is the model purchased by the Seaside Institute for the Academic Village, is a one-bedroom dwelling that was designed to replace the current FEMA travel trailer.  It is approximately 450-square feet in size, including the porch.



    • Nancy,

      Not sure how far away you are from retirement, but the Seaside Institute is going to be offering an “Adopt a Cottage” program for the cottages. This program will effectively provide funding assistance to the Institute to renovate and install the cottages into the Academic Village now and the cottage is turned over to the adopter at the end of either five or ten years. The cost for a renovated Institute village cottage is $30,000.

      If you are interested in hearing more about this program, please let me know.

      Diane Dorney

      • Hi Diane,
        I realize this post is from a few years ago, but I was wondering what happened to the Seaside cottages. Were they all adopted? I will be in Santa Rosa Beach later this week and would love to go see them. Where are they located exactly?
        Holly Frank

    • These cottages were part of a group of 3,000 that were manufactured by Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. Several diffetent companies were selected to manufacture them post-Katrina. They are so well built. Out of the 8 cottages we bought, three different companies produced them and there are slight differences in the interior work. All the same model, though, called The Patriot.

  1. Hi Diane,
    I am installing 26 of the Cottages as part of a neighborhood revitalization in the Mississippi Delta. We are looking at placing them on the foundations with a crane but cant get a good estimate on this without an estimate of how much they weigh. Do you have any information on their weight?

  2. I live in the uk. Are there any plans available for the cottages and what was their cost? Absolutely love them. Great project post Katrina!! Good job! Thank you

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