When tragedy hit New Orleans in the form of the devastating Hurricane Katrina, award-winning actor/philanthropist Brad Pitt and his foundation stepped in to help the thousands who were left homeless. Now, almost a decade later, the Make it Right foundation is being sued for building those people faulty and unreliable houses.
Pitt's foundation erected a number of brand new houses in the city that were marketed as flood-safe, "green" and futuristic. They stood out against the destruction with their vibrant yellow, teal, and lavender colors, and were valued at an average price of $150,000 USD. Although originally intending to build 150 homes, the foundation was only able to reach 109.
Now, citizens of the Ninth Ward in New Orleans have come together to file a lawsuit against Make it Right, claiming their homes began to deteriorate in 2013. Many residents reported sagging porches, wood with mildew, and leaky roofs. Others have also reported electrical fires and gas leaks.
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They're accusing the foundation of attempting to build too many houses too quickly and too cheaply without taking into consideration New Orleans' climate, which is often humid and rainy.
NBC investigated the lawsuit, brought on by residents Lloyd Francis and Jennifer Decuir, and spoke to 11 others who all agreed the houses are "rotting and dangerous." The news outlet reported Pitt's foundation hasn't been onsite in New Orleans since 2015.
"While the citizens of the 9th Ward are grateful to Brad Pitt they were forced to file this lawsuit because the Make it Right Foundation built substandard homes, that are deteriorating at a rapid pace while the homeowners are stuck with mortgages on properties that have diminished values," Ron Austin, the attorney who is representing the residents, told NBC. "We have filed to make Make it Right make it right."
Pitt and his foundation touched down in New Orleans in 2007, two years after the destruction of Katrina. He enlisted the help of several award-winning architects in his venture and began construction in 2008. There were some definite bumps in the road, including an incident in 2014 where the foundation discovered the TimberSIL lumber they had used on the homes were deteriorating. After replacing the material, Make it Right sued TimberSIL for $500,000.
"I get this swell of pride when I see this little oasis of color and the solar panels," Pitt told The Times-Picayune in 2015, a year after the timber incident. "I drive into the neighborhood and I see people on their porch and I ask them how is their house treating them? And they say, 'Good.' And I say 'What's your utility bill?' And they'll throw something out like, '24 bucks' or something, and I feel fantastic."
This isn't the first time Make it Right has been in the news. In June, the foundation made headlines when one of the homes they built in New Orleans was demolished. It was reportedly moldy and falling apart, and hadn't been occupied in years.
The lawsuit claims that residents had been previously given nondisclosure agreements that weren't properly explained to them before they were signed. Homeowners unwittingly signed "on agreements that would deprive [them] of important legal rights while [they] are under duress," the lawsuit states.
Neither Pitt nor the foundation have publicly addressed the lawsuit.