Hollywood star Brad Pitt and his Make It Right Foundation have reached a $20.5 million settlement with 107 New Orleans residents after the homes they built for them after Hurricane Katrina were found to be poor were built and rotted away.
Subject to a judge’s approval, residents are eligible for a $25,000 reimbursement for repairs to their homes, with the remainder of the funds split between them based on the condition of their homes.
Pitt worked with environmental nonprofit Global Green to raise the funds and admitted he was “grateful” they were able to reach the deal.
“I am incredibly grateful for Global Green’s willingness to step up and provide this important support to the families of the Lower Ninth,” he said.
“We worked together in the early days after Katrina, and we are very fortunate to have Global Green’s generous continued commitment to help address the challenges around these homes and others in need,” he continued.
Pitt founded Make It Right in 2007 to help hard-hit residents of New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward with the goal of replacing lost homes in the ward with 150 avant-garde homes that were storm-proof and energy-efficient.
Lower Ninth Ward residents are suing Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation for its shoddy workmanship in building 109 homes after Hurricane Katrina
Pictured: Pitt talks about his plan to build homes in the Lower Ninth Ward in December 2007
In one house only the foundation beams seemed to have been built. It is unclear whether this was an abandoned project or a damaged one
Water damage from the area’s powerful storms has caused mold and structural damage to many homes
The homes were made available at an average cost of $150,000 to residents, who received relocation funding, government grants, and donations from the foundation itself.
The architects who designed the houses tried to make them eco-friendly and sustainable using safe and reusable materials, clean water and renewable energy. All houses have been fitted with solar panels and energy efficient heating and cooling systems.
10 years and more than $26 million later, construction had halted and residents reported sagging porches, moldy wood, termites and leaking roofs, forcing the foundation to acknowledge the shortcomings.
Homeowners first noticed problems with the homes back in 2013, but they thought Make It Right would fix the repairs.
In 2015, lawyers for the organization sued the maker of an eco-friendly, waterproof wood for $500,000 when the product was found to be unfit for the south Louisiana weather.
In 2018, Make It Right’s attorneys sued their own lead architect for alleged design flaws for millions of dollars.
And finally, in 2021, the organization also sued its former chief executive along with the former treasurer and other officials, accusing them of mismanaging the project.
Finally, as complaints about the project mounted, residents decided to file a class action lawsuit in 2018, detailing the shocking condition of their homes.
Many of the homes lacked gutters, overhangs, waterproof paint, or hidden beams—all items necessary to withstand the city’s subtropical climate and heavy rainfall.
Two of the houses were demolished because of severe mold, and the city also confiscated one of the lots, calling it a “security hazard.”
The situation has left many residents fearing for their health and safety, with some claiming that the constant mold is slowly making them ill.
Actor Brad Pitt founded Make It Right, which sought to build affordable housing for Hurricane Katrina survivors. He is seen here working with a crew on one of the houses in 2007
As a result, Make It Right began building houses like the one shown here
One house appeared to be boarded up because city officials had declared one house a “security hazard.”
Others have said they are always “nervous”, described the situation as “very stressful” and said they felt “taken advantage of to the greatest extent”.
According to the lawsuit, some of the homes suffered from rain leakage that caused rot, structural damage and mildew.
The suit also cataloged faulty heaters, problems with cooling and ventilation systems, electrical malfunctions, and plumbing mishaps.
The complaint alleged that Make It Right “fraudulently deprived homeowners of their right to take legal action under Louisiana’s New Home Guarantee Act” because the charity knew of problems with the building materials and design of the homes — but the homeowners did never alarmed.
It also said the plaintiffs’ homes were “poorly designed and built” with “defective products” that led to damage such as mold growth and air quality problems due to improper ventilation.
The complaint added that Make It Right had arranged for inspections of the home by engineers “who were allegedly called in specifically to prepare a report on the condition of the Make It Right homes.” But homeowners never got access to those reports.
The lawsuit alleged engineers found problems at the home, but the charity failed to notify homeowners of the problems, citing part of the foundation’s 2013 tax return that reported $4.3 million in “warranty and… repair liabilities”.
It added that Make It Right gave homeowners a non-disclosure agreement and documents binding them to arbitration before agreeing to make any repairs.
Attorney Ron Austin, who represented local residents in the lawsuit against Pitt and his charity, said the result was a massive, unlikely victory.
“This is one of those scenarios where the impossible became possible,” Austin said.
“Hopefully this agreement will allow everyone to explore other ways to further strengthen this proud community in the future,” Pitt said.