Brad Pitt’s ‘Green Home’ Fiasco
The celebrity’s Lower Ninth Ward charity homes are a reminder that “good intentions” don’t ensure good results.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in the summer of 2005, it left incredible devastation in its wake. The storm breached the levee system and caused massive flooding across of the city. Especially hard hit was one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, the Lower Ninth Ward, where the flood waters reached their highest point, destroying hundreds of homes and killing at least 72 people. Needless to say, the Lower Ninth was left a near-uninhabitable mess even years after the hurricane.
Into this mess stepped Hollywood star Brad Pitt with his plan to help rebuild. In 2007, Pitt founded the Make It Right Foundation, a nonprofit with the stated goal of building 150 affordable houses (priced at $150,000) in the Lower Ninth Ward expressly for those displaced by Katrina. But these would not just be any houses; these would be energy-efficient, ecologically sustainable “green homes” designed by renowned architects from across the globe.
Make It Right’s mission statement was clear: “building a neighborhood with safe and healthy homes … with an emphasis on a high quality of design, while preserving the spirit of the community’s culture … so that residents can return to their homes as soon as possible.”
Pitt’s charity drew in other celebrities and notable figures, including the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Clinton, Drew Brees, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, Oprah Winfrey, and others, to help fundraise and support the venture. Pitt’s initiative and actions were widely recognized and praised.
Initially, as the first several folks received their new homes, everything appeared great — a celebrity was “giving back” and making good on his promise. In 2010, Pitt even bragged that his foundation had “a ‘proof-of-concept’ for low-income green building nationally, maybe even worldwide,” which meant “cracking the code on affordable green homes.”
However, as with so many endeavors, simply having “good intentions” and a vision doesn’t guarantee success. Unfortunately for those who bought Pitt’s green dream homes, what they ended up with was a nightmare.
These “green homes” quickly began to show their true colors. “Almost as soon as the camera crews left and they began settling in, the issues became apparent,” The Guardian reports. “Some houses had flat roofs and lacked basic features like rain gutters, overhangs, covered beams, or waterproof paint to weather New Orleans’ torrential downpours. Within weeks, houses began to develop mold, leaks and rot. Pitt’s non-profit initially made some minor repairs, but then began pushing residents to sign non-disclosure agreements before it would tell them what was wrong with their homes.”
By 2014, it had become clear that Make It Right homes weren’t built to last a decade, let alone a lifetime. Yet despite the reality on the ground in the Lower Ninth, Pitt continued to tout his charitable endeavor as a big success even into 2016. “I’ll tell you,” he said then, “every time I drive over the Claiborne bridge, no matter what frustration I might be dealing with at the moment, I get this well of pride when I see this little oasis of color and the solar panels.”
Well, it now appears that Pitt wants nothing to do with his failed creation. Only six of the 109 homes that were constructed are considered habitable, and many homeowners have raised a lawsuit against Pitt and Make It Right, contending that their houses, “which suffer serious structural problems, will not last as long as their mortgages.” It is estimated that costs for repairs could top $20 million. Meanwhile, Pitt is taking no responsibility, claiming that he had long ago given over control of the project to others. Make It Right has blamed its lumber supplier, architect, and executive director. And displaced Lower Ninth Ward residents are once again dealing with disaster, only this time it was entirely man-made. Unlike after Katrina, almost no one cares enough to, well, make it right.
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