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Katrina Cottages and SF Earthquake Cottages

by Gail MacGowan

On the Gulf Coast, an entrepreneur has manufactured "Katrina cottages" to sell to hurricane victims as a permanent alternative to FEMA trailers in which many are still housed.

How do these Katrina cottages compare to the San Francisco earthquake shacks, provided as alternatives to tents a hundred years ago? The new cottages range in size from 308 to 1,175 square feet compared to earthquake shacks that were 140 to 252 square feetóbut today's cottages are meant to be permanent housing, whereas the earthquake shacks were built as temporary refugee camps. However, just as ultimately many of these shacks later served as the basis for larger structures, the Katrina cottages are designed as "Grow Houses" that can be expanded into larger homes. Designed by San Francisco Park Superintendent John McLaren, 5,610 earthquake shacks were built between September 1906 and the late summer of 1907. As the refugee camps were closed, residents were able to purchase the shacks from the San Francisco Relief Corporation for $100 or less.

The Katrina cottage kits, designed by architect Marianne Cusato, are being manufactured by a private company and start at $30,000. Labor costs bring the price up to $80,000-$90,000. This compares with FEMA trailers that are available free for 18 months for those who qualify. Both earthquake shacks and Katrina cottages have required buyers to supply the lot to serve as a permanent location for the structures.

Bay Area residents may wish to take note: according to the Association of Bay Area Governments, a 7.0+ earthquake on the Hayward Fault will displace 360,000 people. The Katrina cottages may turn out to be a great deal for Bay Area residents who already own a piece of land to put them on.

Sources: Susan Fornoff, "The little house that roared," San Francisco Chronicle, 3/4/06 Judy Stark, "A cottage industry rooted in Katrina," San Francisco Chronicle, 3/7/07

Historic photos reprinted with permission, SF History Center, SF Public Library.

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An Earthquake Shack built after the 1906 fire.

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