Brad Pitt's post-Katrina housing project is under fire after homes started collapsing
- Brad Pitt's plan to rebuild New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina has run into a slew of problems.
- The actor's Make It Right foundation has built more than 100 homes in the district, but residents have said that their properties are rotting, collapsing, and caving in.
- A federal lawsuit alleges that both Pitt and Make It Right failed to alert homeowners of issues with the design and materials of the homes.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Not long after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city of New Orleans in 2005, Brad Pitt devised a plan to rebuild the most devastated community, the Lower 9th Ward.
In 2007, the actor formed the Make It Right foundation with the mission of constructing new homes that adhered to the highest standards of green building. He enlisted the help of world-renowned architects like Frank Gehry and David Adjaye, and outfitted the homes with solar panels, non-toxic paint, and energy-saving appliances.
The message of Make It Right, he told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, was to transform a battered neighborhood into "a human success story on how we can build in the future." Twelve years later, it's a lesson in the pitfalls of sustainable architecture.
Residents now report that their units are rotting, collapsing, and caving in due to poor building materials. Some have experienced gas leaks, electrical fires, and mushrooms growing out of their walls - most likely the result of chronic rain and humidity.
The foundation, which now faces a federal lawsuit, reportedly hasn't filed a tax form or built a home in years. Its website appears to be defunct. All the while, Pitt has remained silent, other than to reiterate his plan to help the Lower 9th rebuild.
Take a look at the project's history.
Pitt founded Make It Right two years after New Orleans was struck by Hurricane Katrina.
The hurricane damaged or destroyed around 800,000 residences, leaving many people homeless. In the Lower 9th Ward, the breach of the Industrial Canal allowed for massive flooding that stripped homes down to their foundations.
The project kicked off with a public art installation in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward.
Pitt collaborated with an architecture firm to display 150 pink pop-up structures that symbolized the area's rebirth.
Within months of its founding, Make It Right had completed its first round of six homes.
Construction costs for a single home were estimated at $150,000.
Over the next decade, the organisation built around 100 homes in New Orleans.
NBC News reported that Make It Right spent $26.8 million to build 109 homes in New Orleans as of 2016. The foundation also built homes in New Jersey, Kansas City, and an Indian reservation in Montana.
Around 2008, the foundation starting replacing rotting decks on some of the properties, according to a lawsuit filed about a decade later.
In 2009, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Pitt "a real hero for the people of New Orleans."
At the time, Pitt claimed that his foundation's efforts were successful. "We have a model that works," he told news outlets after his meeting with Pelosi.
The homes had only been standing for a handful of years before residents found evidence of mold.
Former Make It Right resident Kamaria Allen told NBC News that mold in her home caused a slew of health issues for her family, including respiratory infections, tremors, and memory problems.
Another former resident, Brittany West, said that mold in her property was giving her migraines. She moved out in 2015, and her home was later demolished.
In 2013, a former Make It Right resident received a cash settlement from the foundation in exchange for her silence about issues in her home.
Allen signed a non-disclosure agreement with Make It Right, but later broke the agreement by speaking to NBC.
A year later, reports surfaced that more than two dozen homes showed signs of rot.
The decks and steps of about 30 homes were built with a wood material made by the lumber company TimberSIL, which was supposed to have a 40-year lifespan. The product was selected because it didn't contain chemicals, but a Make It Right spokesperson told The Advocate that the material couldn't withstand the moisture in New Orleans.
In 2015, Pitt told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the foundation was naive at the outset of the project.
"We went into it incredibly naive," he said. "Just thinking we can build homes - how hard is that?"
In September 2018, an attorney filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of two residents, alleging that Pitt and the foundation failed to alert homeowners of issues with the design and materials.
The lawsuit alleged that Make It Right inspected homes in 2016, 2017, and 2018, but held off on making repairs until residents signed nondisclosure agreements.
"Make It Right was very good at pacifying people and putting them off, and pacifying people and putting them off," the attorney for the lawsuit, Ron Austin, told Architectural Digest. "They might come back and fix one thing, but not everything."
That same month, Make It Right filed a lawsuit of its own against the project's executive architect, John Williams, and his firm.
The lawsuit alleged Williams failed to adequately waterproof the homes, which made them vulnerable to damage caused by rain and moisture. Some of the homes also featured flat roofs, which hold onto rain. In the suit, Make It Right alleged that Williams' shoddy design work could cost them $20 million.
Last year, NBC reported that Make It Right hasn't filed a tax form or built a home in years.
Residents have told multiple news outlets, including NBC News and Architectural Digest, that the foundation won't return their calls.
Pitt has stayed silent, other than to release a statement to NBC via a spokesperson: "I made a promise to the folks of the Lower Ninth to help them rebuild," he said. "It is a promise I intend to keep."
The homeowners' lawsuit is now headed to federal court, but Pitt's lawyers have petitioned to have him removed from the suit.
Though Pitt has reportedly left the board of Make It Right, a representative for the actor told NBC News in September that he was still coordinating with the foundation to repair homes.
Many of the homes are now abandoned, and at least one has been demolished because of rotting and rain damage.
Some residents say they remain trapped in 30-year mortgages that they can't afford to break.
Make It Right's website appears to be defunct. The foundation did not respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
Receive a single WhatsApp every morning with all our latest news: click here.
Also from Business Insider South Africa: