For Hurricane Katrina survivors in the Lower Ninth Ward, it had seemed like a prayer answered: in 2006, Brad Pitt announced an initiative to rebuild New Orleans’ storm-ravaged Lower Ninth Ward with sustainable, flood-proof, affordable homes, designed by a list of A-list architects. The 109 homes on offer would give many survivors a chance to become first-time homeowners, and bring back a community devastated by the hurricane. But not even a decade after the homes were completed to great fanfare – including a star-studded gala hosted by Ellen DeGeneres – that dream has become a curse, as many of the residents’ homes have decayed to unlivable conditions.The houses now list a frightening array of defects: water intrusion, black mold, porches rotted through, stair rails collapsing, fires caused by electrical problems, plumbing problems and poor ventilation, according to a class-action lawsuit filed against Pitt and his charity by some of the remaining residents. Other residents have reported termite infestations, and multiple residents have fallen sick.
Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP
By 2014, it became clear that the buildings were actively falling apart, with that the glass-infused wood was “rotting from the inside out”. But without correcting the issue, Pitt continued to call the project a success – telling local media in August 2016: “I’ll tell you, 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.” That was the last time he would publicly mention Make It Right. The next month, he and Angelina Jolie divorced, and soon the pair had sold their New Orleans mansion.Then Make It Right vanished. Its website stopped updating – and later was replaced by a The office stopped picking up the phone. “Everyone from Make It Right has more or less disappeared,” said Keller, who said she had tried every method to contact the organization, with no luck since she began her research. With no one to turn to, the residents have been stuck.In 2018, as their houses continued to crumble, some residents filed a class-action lawsuit against Pitt and Make It Right, citing “significant mental distress” and “financial loss”, and noting in their petition that “despite months and/or years of multiple requests, the defendants have failed to ‘make it right’”.“This was, in most cases, a one-shot deal at home ownership for these people,” said Ron Austin, an attorney representing the residents. He told the Guardian some residents had spent their life savings on their Make It Right home. “Without some financial relief, these people will literally be left holding nothing.” The lawyer added that many of the residents are still fans of Brad Pitt. “It’s unbelievable. To this day, their homes are falling down around them, and they love the man. But they just can’t believe the betrayal.”
Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP