Cottages will become a permanent part of Biloxi's landscape

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi has become the second Harrison County city to turn Mississippi cottages into permanent homes. Because of Tuesday's unanimous vote, nearly 180 Biloxi families will have a chance to buy their cottages from MEMA.

According to a MEMA representative, the leases on the cottages was set to expire January 31, 2009. And Biloxi Katrina victims assigned to those one, two and three bedroom units were beginning to wonder where they were going to live next.

Mary Rose Leahy lives in one of the cottages. And she's getting tired of the uncertainty.

"I'll get down on my knees and beg if need be," she told the council members, pleading for them to make cottages a permanent part of the city's landscape.

There are 176 Mississippi Cottages within Biloxi's boundaries. According to MEMA, as many as 121 of the city's cottage dwellers have expressed an interest in buying the temporary homes and making them permanent.

Councilman George Lawrence feels like he's talked with every one of them.

"If we don't do this, the people that's living there now, they're going to become homeless," he said during a council workshop on the status of Biloxi's cottages.

The new ordinance unanimously approved by Biloxi councilmen allows qualified cottages to be raised, and then placed on permanent foundations. MEMA will pay for that work, as long as a cottage isn't elevated more than five feet seven inches.

Tom Wall realizes the city council needs to make cottages permanent so neighbors can get on with their lives.

"It's their only chance. It's the only place they have to live. And they need to know that they're going to have a roof over their head," he said after the meeting.

Biloxi joins Pass Christian as the only Harrison County cities to make cottages a permanent part of their communities.

For Sammy Montiforte's mom, the decision to make cottages permanent was quite a relief.

"When you're 84 years old, how much more longer are you going to live," Montiforte said. "You want to have some certainty in life."

The council's unanimous vote gave Montiforte and his mother that certainty.

"We should not ever put anybody out on the street because of a disaster," said Councilman Lawrence.

MEMA purchase requirements say owners must stay in their cottages for a minimum of two years. Gary Stilwell says that's not a problem. The hurricane victim has no desire to leave east Biloxi, or the cottage he's turned into a home.

"As the city grows and things change, I think it will be great," said Stilwell.

The ordinance approved on Tuesday specifically said cottage owners must live in the dwellings. But the city council heard a situation where a cottage was being used by an ailing family members who lost her homes in Katrina, and not by the actual property owner. So over the next few weeks, the cottage ordinance will be tweaked to address cases like that.