- Brad Pitt’s post-Katrina housing project could face legal trouble amid complaints that its units are rotting, collapsing, and caving in.
- The celebrity’s Make It Right Foundation was created in 2007 in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, one of the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina.
- The foundation has allegedly failed to address residents’ concerns about structural, electrical, and plumbing issues.
As Hurricane Florence makes it way toward the Carolinas, coastal communities are scrambling to gather their belongings and evacuate to shelters amid heavy traffic, lane closures, and oceans overflowing onto low-lying roads.
It’s a scenario that residents of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward know all too well. In 2005, their community experienced the gravest effects of Hurricane Katrina, a Category 5 hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast. In addition to its many casualties, the hurricane damaged or destroyed around 800,000 residences, leaving many homeless.
The disaster inspired actor Brad Pitt to create Make It Right, a non-profit foundation dedicated to rebuilding homes in the area. Within months of its founding in 2007, the organisation had completed its first round of six homes, with construction costs estimated at $US150,000 per home. More than a decade later, Make It Right has built more than 100 homes in New Orleans, and expanded to New Jersey, Kansas City, and an Indian reservation in Montana.
Now, attorney Ron Austin is filing a class-action lawsuit against the foundation over a host of structural, electrical, and plumbing problems, which may be causing residents to become ill. Austin claims that Make It Right not only failed to deliver on its promise to fix the homes, but also failed to alert residents upon learning of issues with the design and materials.
“This has been years of ongoing lies and broken promises,” said Kamaria Allen, a former Make It Right resident, in an interview with NBC News. In 2013, Allen received a cash settlement from the foundation in exchange for signing a non-disclosure agreement. (She has since broken the agreement by speaking to NBC.)
Her comments echo those of many residents, who say that Make It Right has been unresponsive to their complaints. NBC claims that the organisation has not filed a tax form or built a home in years.
The foundation has long touted its homes as “meet[ing] the highest standards in green building.” Each unit is LEED Platinum-certified and features solar panels, non-toxic paint, and energy-saving appliances. Pitt even brought in world-renowned architects like Frank Gehry and David Adjaye to weigh in on the design.
But in recent years, this once-sterling reputation has been sullied by complaints from residents about caving roofs, collapsed walls, and rotting wood. In 2014, reports surfaced that more than two dozen homes showed signs of rot, despite the fact that the wood was guaranteed to have a 40-year lifespan. Residents have since experienced gas leaks, electrical fires, and even mushrooms growing out of the walls – most likely the result of chronic rain and humidity.
In the wake of the recent lawsuit, Pitt has stayed silent, other than to release a statement 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.”