Cottage residents plead with Hancock Co. supervisors

By Al Showers - bio | email

BAY ST. LOUIS, MS (WLOX) - The controversial Mississippi cottage issue drew tears, anger and a little hope at Monday's Hancock Board of Supervisors meeting. Facing the prospect of being homeless when the Mississippi cottage program ends, residents begged supervisors to turn the temporary homes into permanent housing. The stories were heartbreaking.

"If y'all could just please let us keep our houses," Bay St. Louis resident Donna Darensbourg said.

"She's raising three kids in a MEMA cottage right now. She don't have nowhere to go," Hancock County resident Rhonda Green said.

Katrina survivors, almost three and a half years after the storm, find themselves still struggling to survive. They're about to lose the only homes they have - a Mississippi cottage.

"We will be homeless. We'll have to revert to tents," Waveland resident Cheryl Kring said.

Most of the people pleading with supervisors live in the Bayside Park community. The neighborhood has about 180 cottages currently in use. But when the temporary housing program ends in March, those cottages will go away. That's because county supervisors have said "no" to allowing the cottages to remain in the Bayside Park neighborhood.

Mary Thornton hopes a petition drive she started will convince county leaders that the cottages should stay.

"Here's my signed petition this morning. I left home with a little over 300," Thornton told supervisors. "Nobody asked for Katrina. We all got it and we got to face up to what we're facing today."

The cottage debate has captured the attention of a national organization - The Poor People's Economics Human Rights Campaign. One of that group's housing advocates also pleaded with supervisors not to close the door on permanent cottages.

Housing advocate Cheri Honkala said, "The devastation that people suffered here as a result of Katrina, they shouldn't have to relive through it again. So we're prepared to bring national leaders here to Mississippi - celebrities, members of the clergy, you name it - from around the entire country, if you don't leave these families alone in the cottages and let them go on with their lives."

While supervisors took no official action to reconsider the cottage issue, the pleas of the people seemed to be getting through.

"I have relatives in cottages, " District 2 Supervisor David Yarborough said. "The people I represent are you, the poor people."

A central issue in the cottage debate is whether the temporary homes are considered mobile homes or modular homes. One man, who will lose his cottage if supervisors don't change their decision, told them there is a precedent that put cottages in the "modular home" category.