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Brad Pitt's Charity Has Left Hurricane Katrina Survivors Living In Decaying Homes With Leaks

Photo: Tinseltown, KEG-KEG / Shutterstock
Brad Pitt, New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 29, 2005, devastating the vibrant city with flooding caused by breaches of the federal levee system. The storm caused 1,392 fatalities and created damage costing an estimated $97.4 billion to $145.5 billion. 

The Lower 9th Ward neighborhood was hit hardest, with houses swept off their foundations when the Industrial Canal breached. 

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The destruction garnered much media attention, and even high-profile intervention. In 2007, Brad Pitt promised to build 150 affordable homes in the Lower 9th Ward through his Make It Right Foundation, a charity he established while living part-time in New Orleans' French Quarter.

16 years later, Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation still hasn't made good on its promises to Katrina survivors.

The foundation built a total of 109 homes, which sold for about $150,000, which is around the amount of money they cost to build. Residents took out mortages to purchase the Make It Right houses.

Yet the homes were barely livable— they were infested with mold and termites, plagued by rotting wood, gas leaks, and flooding. Some of the houses weren't designed for the given environment, constructed with flat roofs that deteriorated in heavy rain. 

By 2015, the majority of construction finished, with Pitt's project coming in at a cost of almost $27 million. Yet inhabitants had serious complaints about the livability of their new homes, which led to years of unresolved litigation.

Homeowners alleged that deficient construction of the houses caused poor air quality, electrical malfunctions, plumbing mishaps, and faulty heating, ventilation and cooling.

Pitt's charity essentially functioned as a vanity project, failing to provide functional houses promised to New Orleanians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Pitt himself initially acknowledged the issues with the houses his charity built. In 2015, Make It Right sued TimberSIL, their lumber supplier, for $500,000, because the water-resistant wood they built with didn’t actually protect against water damage. 

In September 2018, residents filed a class-action lawsuit against Make It Right, which spent years going nowhere in court as people’s homes decayed even further. The lawsuit contended that the houses were “deficiently constructed and built” with “defective products.” 

During that same month, Make It Right filed a lawsuit of their own, suing their principal architect John C. Williams for $20 million, alleging that his design work was defective, leading to leakage and other structural problems with the houses.

The class-action suit spent years going nowhere in court, as people’s homes decayed even further.

By November 2018, Pitt was trying to absolve himself of any responsibility. He and the other directors of Make It Right claimed that they had no personal responsibility for construction, and asked to be removed from the suit.

The request was denied when an Orleans Parish judge ruled that Pitt would remain a defendant in the case. 

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In August 2022, 18 years after Hurricane Katrina, a $20.5 million settlement was ultimately reached in the years-long lawsuit. Each of the 107 homeowners involved were eligible to receive $25,000 as reimbursement for repairs.

The funds were to be handled by Global Green, a California-based non-profit organization that defined itself as “devoted to ecological concerns.”

But Global Green didn’t actually have any of the money they promised to distribute.

The Hollywood Reporter stated that Global Green tried to go back on their deal. After signing a court-approved agreement that required all funding to be provided within 10 days, Global Green revealed that it never had the money to begin with.

Furthermore, the organization claimed that it was unable to procure the money from donors, as allegations of abuse against Pitt from his ex-wife Angelina Jolie came to light.

Global Green reported that its board was “working towards bringing on additional ‘brand partners’ (e.g., celebrities/influencers/sports figures) to help balance the public relations and press needed for this endeavor until Brad Pitt is beyond this current negative press.” 

Meanwhile, the people living the Make It Right homes in the Lower 9th Ward were left stranded, their lives directly and negatively affected by organizations that came into their community with no true roots or connections, making a hard situation even harder.

At the onset of his charity work, Pitt reported to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “I feel fantastic.”

He spoke of the Lower 9th Ward as a place that “became a 21st-century disaster attraction…  the icon of the place that was hit the hardest and suffered the most, certainly in one condensed area.”

Pitt claimed that the goal of Make It Right was “to take this spot that was emblematic of such human failure and to make it a human success story on how we can build in the future, how we can build for families, how we can build with quality, and how we can build with the community under their guidelines."

According to The Lens, in 2021, Make It Right owed almost $15,000 in back taxes and fines, which were added to their tax bill after becoming delinquent. The majority of debt was accumulated when the foundation failed to pay taxes on any of its 32 properties. 

Those properties included vacant lots, a decayed gas station, a playground maintained by neighbors, an unsold yet fully constructed Make It Right house, and the foundation’s abandoned construction office.

While Pitt gets to wash his hands of the whole endeavor, homeowners in the Lower 9th Ward are still waiting for the revitalization—and funds—that were promised to them. 

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Alexandra Blogier is a writer on YourTango's news and entertainment team. She covers celebrity gossip, pop culture analysis and all things to do with the entertainment industry.