EXCLUSIVE: Brad Pitt’s Hurricane Katrina homes are rotting, leaking and caving in – and residents claim the actor and his charity have disappeared from New Orleans and some fear they will be forced to abandon poorly built properties
- Brad Pitt’s charity Make It Right promised to regenerate the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the years after it was decimated by Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005
- Shortly after the hurricane, families who had lost everything were encouraged to return to the area and buy affordable housing built by Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation
- People praised Pitt for his actions, and for the first years, the program made a difference despite running massively over budget
- But Pitt hasn’t been seen in recent years and the last home was built in 2016
- The charity seems to have given up on its promise to construct 150 new homes – as stated on its out-of-date website – with just over 100 being built
- On the 13th-year anniversary of Katrina, images and video of Make it Right properties show rotting roofs, walls falling off, and leaking floorboards
- Sources close to Pitt insist that Brad recognizes there have been some issues but he and other MIR leadership members continue to dedicate time and money to the project
Walking around New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood, people are still angry at the impact of Hurricane Katrina and how unprepared the city was for the massive storm nearly 13 years on.
But now some of their wrath is directed at Brad Pitt and his charity Make It Right.
After the levees of the city’s industrial canal were breached, the Lower Ninth Ward of predominantly black and low-income families was decimated by the floods, with most houses swept away or left in ruins.
Among the first to lend a helping hand was Pitt, who – along with his then wife Angelina Jolie – owned a house in New Orleans and set up the charity Make It Right to help regenerate the area. Pitt was lauded as a humanitarian who willing to put his money where his heart was.
But according to residents interviewed by DailyMail.com,, Pitt hasn’t been seen in the Lower Ninth Ward in years and the last Make It Right home was built in 2016, giving up on its promise to construct 150 new homes – as stated on its out-of-date website – with just over 100 being built.
And many of those houses are falling apart, with roofs caving in, wood rotting and walls collapsing.
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Brad Pitt’s charity Make It Right promised to regenerate the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the years after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. He’s pictured above in 2007 in front of pink stand-in structures (background) where 150 ecologically sustainable homes were to be built
But Pitt hasn’t been seen by Lower Ninth Ward residents in years and the last Make It Right home was built in 2016, giving up on its promise to construct 150 new homes – as stated on its out-of-date website – with just over 100 being built
Many of the houses, including the one pictured above, are falling apart, with roofs caving in, wood rotting and walls collapsing
A man and woman were living in the home pictured above when it’s claimed the woman started getting sick from mold. Make it Right told her to move out and the charity would renovate their house. The renovation never happened
Locals told DailyMail.com that they used to see the Hollywood star walking around the neighborhoods, with the organization’s office being in the center of the Lower Ninth. Recently, he is no where to be seen.
A source close to Pitt tells DailyMail.com says that Brad has visited New Orleans several times over the past few years—including earlier this year—and continues to make the organization a priority from wherever he may be in the world.
‘In addition to personally being there, he continues to dedicate significant time and financial support to this project,’ the source said.
MAKE IT RIGHT RESPONSE
A source close to Make it Right told DailyMail.com:
After the 10 year anniversary of Katrina, the Make It Right leaders conducted an internal review to make sure they were meeting the high standards—steps are being taken to remedy issues in homes that did not meet these standards.
The Make It Right Foundation has built over 100 homes in the New Orleans area—there is ongoing work that will continue to achieve the desired outcome of this project.
This is a totally normal process, as with any organization specifically one working on construction of homes, there are bound to be some problems and challenges but, Make It Right is working to remedy any issues.
The homeowner that has raised these concern currently resides in a home that is structurally sound.
The homeowner of the actual house being worked on is working closely with MIR on the construction and rebuild of their home.
All work being done is in coordination with and in full compliance of the homeowner.
‘This is an ongoing project for both Make It Right and for Brad—who has personally donated his time and millions of his own dollars to ensure the community is revitalized and the project continues as scheduled.’
Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit, families who had lost everything were encouraged to return to the area and buy affordable housing built by Make It Right.
The houses were like nothing the community had seen before, with architect competitions deciding cutting edge designs.
People praised Pitt for his actions, and for the first few years, the program made a difference despite running massively over budget.
Make It Right said it had spent $25 million by 2015, but another housing NGO (non Government Organization) claimed the charity had spent four times that amount.
Since the final home was built the mood in the area has soured, as some residents have complained about their houses, quite literally, falling apart.
Regeneration has ground to a halt and has even gone backward in some cases. The area is blighted with boarded-up homes that have been badly designed. Only a third of pre-Katrina homeowners have returned.
Some residents have abandoned their Make It Right homes because they can’t afford the repairs.
Even though residents bought the properties at a discount, their investments could be worthless in a few years time due to the houses’ structural flaws.
Most homeowners who bought from the organization have a ten-year guarantee. But those nearing to the end of that warranty are worried.
In some cases, they’ve plowed their savings into the new homes. If the owners face huge repair bills in the future and can’t afford them, they wonder, how can they sell a house which is falling apart and virtually worthless?
In one case, a Make It Right Home abandoned by its owners had completely rotted away – with the walls and roof collapsed.
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It’s a pretty pictures from the air. This aerial shows the Lower Ninth in New Orleans and its Make It Right properties. About 30 per cent of owners have come back to the area after Hurricane Katrina
Construction on new homes in the Lower Ninth ward has stopped in recent years, bringing regeneration to a halt
Make it Right’s houses were like nothing the community had seen before, with architect competitions deciding cutting edge designs, like the one pictured above
Next door lives Constance Fowler, who had been campaigning for the home to be torn down after the couple who lived there moved out after, she claims, the wife became ill from exposure to severe mold.
DailyMail.com’s exclusive video and photos show that Fowler wasn’t exaggerating about how bad it was living next to the destroyed home.
After months of complaining to the city council and Make It Right, it was finally taken down at the end of last month after being left to decompose for over two and a half years.
She says: ‘Make It Right say this is the largest green community in the US where they’ve designed homes with solar panels, environmentally friendly insulation, construction material that is clean and healthy, but are they really?
‘Look how many are boarded up now or abandoned? There wasn’t as many boarded up back then in 2014 when I bought my Make It Right home for $150,000, it was constant building work by the organization, they had a commitment and goal to build over 150 homes.
‘The brochure they gave us made it look like you were joining a family, it was very attractive and there was a ten-year guarantee.
‘The place next door, a woman was living there and she was getting sick from the mold, so they said move out, and we’ll renovate your house.
‘That was in Feb 2016. When they removed the roof, I heard a worker say: “We can’t fix this.” No one has lived there since.
Constance Fowler (pictured) had been campaigning for the home next to her to be taken down after the couple who lived there moved out
DailyMail.com’s exclusive video and photos show that Fowler wasn’t exaggerating how bad it was living next to the now destroyed home
‘I cited it to the City of New Orleans a year ago, it could come to pieces in another hurricane and it was full of mold, there were termites everywhere, it was rotten.
‘Who took the roof off? Who didn’t repair it? Who left it blighted? Make It Right.’
Fowler showed DailyMail.com a Make It Right leaflet from when she moved in, which proclaims: ‘Safety: Make It Right homes are designed with safety in mind and are built to weather the next storm or floor. All homes are elevated to at least 5ft, built to withstand winds of at least 130mph.
‘Make It Right homes are built to stringent LEED Platinum standards and use the only healthiest materials for both the homeowner and the environment.
‘Durable: Metal roofs, fiber cement siding and mold and termite resistant framing lumber are examples of long-lasting, durable materials chosen specifically to minimize the burden of home maintenance and repairs.’
Ironically, around the time of the ten-year-anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in 2015, Pitt spoke to the local newspaper, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, and admitted the organization was ‘incredibly naïve’, adding: ‘Just thinking we can build homes – how hard is that?’
But he thought it was still a success, saying: ‘I get this well of pride when I see this little oasis of color and the solar panels.
‘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.’
Fowler claims that she’s walked round the Lower Ninth speaking to residents, making a tally of all their complaints. She says that out of just over 100 homes, a minimum of 18 have needed new roofs.
The 65-year-old reckons that there are many others with problems, but have signed non-disclosure agreements. In return for repairs, homeowners aren’t allowed to badmouth Make It Right.
Pitt, along with his then wife Angelina Jolie – owned a house in New Orleans and set up the charity Make It Right to help regenerate the area. Above they are pictured with a local in 2008
The actor owned a home in New Orleans (pictured in 2014) but sold the property last year as part of divorce proceedings from Jolie
‘There’s 18 houses out of 109 that need to have their roofs changed, at least. I’ve been up and down the street speaking to people, these are meant to be new houses, only a few years old. Make It Right said that they would fix it, but it’s all talk.
‘One in six need new roofs, what is that telling you? They don’t get it, they should have seen the problem years ago after building the first few, which had major issues.
‘People have problems with porches, roofs, walls falling apart. There’s six out of seven homes right next to me that have had significant repairs.
‘But people have signed non-disclosures – to get repairs you had to sign them. I’ve asked so many people, they can only tell you they’ve signed one, but not tell you anything about what the repair was.’
This isn’t just one person ranting, it’s evident to this reporter from walking around Lower Ninth, that homes are in desperate need of repair.
Some have walls that are coming away from the body of the house, others have sunken roofs, because they were built completely flat, even though it’s in one of the most rain-hit areas of the United States, and slanted roofs are the norm.
Fowler said that Make it Right told buyers it built homes with ‘solar panels, environmentally friendly insulation, construction material that is clean and healthy’. The home next door was discovered to be filled with mold and is now rotting
Photos from the home next to Fowler’s, which was pulled down at the end of last month, show walls caving in, with the ceiling and outside walls completely rotting
The couple moved out but no repairs were ever made. The home was finally demolished last month
There’s staircases that have collapsed and a number of residents have complained about rotting porches.
If the repairs do happen, it’s evident from photos that there is new timber on rotting wood, which the structural issues haven’t been solved.
Many who purchased Make It Right properties had returned to the area after seeing their houses destroyed in the hurricane.
The Lower Ninth had the biggest area of black home ownership in the United States.
Now residents face the problem that these new homes will lose their value in the next few years. In 2017, a Make It Right property hit the market for $85,000, well below its purchase price of about $150,000.
It’s increasingly difficult for people to gain contact with Make It Right, even other NGOs working in the area grimace at the name and said ‘good luck’ with getting in contact, and complained that no one ever answered the phone.
Since Brad Pitt sold his New Orleans property last year as part of divorce proceedings from Jolie, there’s been a change in the organization’s structure and DailyMail.com was told by another non-profit that the new executive director had been installed to navigate ‘a sinking ship.’
Make it Right is believed to have gone vastly over budget without creating the promised 150 homes. Laura Paul (pictured) of the non-profit lowernine.org has been doing a similar job to Pitt’s but on a minuscule budget of $2 million
Lowernine.org has kept residents updated on their progress on its Instagram page, with one post saying it helped residents clean up after a tornado in 2017
A 2016 post from lowernine.org shows a group reconstructing a home that appears to be falling apart
Fowler adds: ‘The repairs they do are so deficient that it’s almost insulting. Some residents aren’t skilled in homeownership, so can’t see how badly they need repairs.
‘I have two concerns: one, from a public health and safety point of view, like the house next to mine, which should be repaired or taken down. Two: justice.
‘People were sold a promise of a safe, healthy home, and yet they have multiple leaks and mold.
‘If you had a big income, you could weather all the issues that happen to your home, like the a/c and solar panels breaking, but I don’t have 10,000 extra bucks to do that.
‘I’m likely to have leaks, the corner of my porch is starting to rot, if I don’t deal with it, then you can see what happens. The place will fall apart.’
‘What is happening? Their website is ancient, it even advertises an address from years ago and they’re not building homes, they have pulled out effectively.
‘When you talk to them about it, they say: “We’re not answering questions at this time.” There’s been no communication for 18 months.
‘No one knows why they’ve just disappeared. Brad Pitt had his family issues, surely he can’t even be part of the foundation anymore? We used to see him.
‘People are now coming to me to tell me things. They are fearful to criticize Make It Right. I’ve had four families who have stood by me, others say they can’t talk, we’re talking at least 20 homes.
Hurricane victim Mary Picot, 68,was living with husband Michael in the Lower Ninth for 29 years until her house was destroyed. With the government compensation for her property, she bought a Make It Right property nine years ago, which neighbor Henry Wyman has been helping to maintain
Brad Pitt, Dean of Architecture at Tulane Reed Kroloff and council member Cynthia Willard-Lewis (right) visit areas affected by hurricane Katrina during a trip to lobby government officials to increase the speed of re-construction on July 13, 2006 in New Orleans
A leaflet from Make it Right was given to potential homeowners in 2014. The brochure claimed that the homes were constructed with ‘safety in mind and are built to weather the next storm or floor’. The leaflet added: ‘All homes are elevated to at least 5ft, built to withstand winds of at least 130mph’
Make it right advertised the homes as durable structures made with ‘metal roofs, fiber cement siding and mold and termite resistant framing lumber’
‘There’s tour buses which come round, if I was on one of them, the houses don’t look like the brochure anymore. The ones that do look pretty is because the owners work so hard to repair them.
‘What if I lose my home because I can’t afford the repairs after the ten-year guarantee is up? I may have to move. Make It Right is doing anything but Make It Right.’
Doris Wyman has been living in a Make It Right home for seven years with husband Henry and echoes Fowler’s words. They are only surviving because Henry is a skilled handyman.
‘We’re blessed as Henry can sort out our issues, but I’m concerned about neighbors’ homes. Just because mine is holding up, I know others are falling apart, their walls, roofs and porches,’ says Wyman.
‘If the purpose of Make It Right was to bring people back, they have done it, but we can’t sustain or function properly, houses are falling apart, the purpose defeated, [even though the] intention was beautiful.
‘To build safe, inspired homes and communities, that is Make It Right’s mission and statement on their website, where did they go wrong? Why are we left with more questions than answers? Why are there homes that are causing health hazards to their owners and to the community?
‘People need transparency and the truth, we as a community needed to believe that things could get better after Katrina, Make It Right gave us momentum, Katrina ripped us apart.
‘Make It Right gave us hope, told us to come back and along the way, it’s got a little messed up. I now feel sadness, anger, because no one has come forth from Make It Right, hurts me that people’s places have been falling apart.
‘I have a husband who is a jack of all trades, but for people with no money, what do they do? I can’t believe no one has told Mr Pitt: “Hey, you need to come down here.” There’s no dialogue.
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One Make it Right home in the Lower Ninth was rented out after the owner died from cancer. Because it was poorly maintained, the home is now boarded up with no one living in it
Make It Right did repairs outing wood on rotting wood. The porch is rotting and house is only nine years old
This Make It Right property is suffering from mold and rotten wooden walls, which are coming away from the house
‘Mr Pitt was always here, every turn, the place next to mine was their office, and we’d see him. He’s disappeared, he’s not helping people truly in need. There was a social and moral responsibility for Make It Right, we have been let down, some of us more than others.’
There’s still only a few streets in the Lower Ninth with more than ten homes on them.
There are many more pockets of homes left in ruins by Katrina that have now been taken over by wild grass.
There were around 50 churches in the neighborhood before the hurricane, but now there’s said to be only three active, and many more boarded up.
Another hurricane victim is Mary Picot, 68, who was living with husband Michael in the Lower Ninth for 29 years until her house was destroyed.
With the government compensation for her property, she bought a Make It Right property nine years ago, which neighbor Henry Wyman has been helping to maintain.
‘We had to change our whole porch out, but right now there’s nothing going on, thankfully,’ she said. ‘But these houses are in such a bad way.
‘I am a lucky one, my neighbor next door was pregnant when she moved in, she then had the baby, and the air condition broke and they had to move out, it was too hot.
‘You can never get some information, they said when we bought them if we had any issues to tell them and they will resolve it, that’s not happened. They’re not interested in reports on the houses and who do we report to? They don’t even answer the phone.
‘I don’t even think Brad Pitt is affiliated anymore, we haven’t seen him for at least three years. In the first few years, he was always walking round the neighborhood.
This Make it Right property has a rotten wooden porch, where the nails are rising up
Make It Right isn’t repairing this property properly, pinning the house up with new wood over the top of rotting wood
‘I’m concerned what could happen to this house in the future, after the tenth year, I’m going to have to pay. If it’s something big, how can I afford to pay for it? I like the house, but I don’t feel it’s up to the standards we were promised.
‘There’s people who’ve had major stuff going on. People who put everything in, didn’t have any savings, so when things go down, especially older people, what are they to do? It’s terrible.
‘I was here in pre-Katrina, I’ve been here nearly 39 years. I just put it in God’s hands and see what happens, there’s nothing I can do.’
Laura Paul of the non-profit lowernine.org has been doing a similar job to Pitt’s but on a minuscule budget of $2 million.
The non-profit has still managed to build 87 new homes and renovate hundreds of others that were in disrepair.
Like others DailyMail.com spoke to, she believes there’s no malice on Pitt’s part, but he didn’t have the necessary expertise to handle rebuilding a neighborhood with hurricane-resistant housing.
Paul says: ‘It’s a shame, certainly I don’t think Brad Pitt’s intentions were anything but honorable. He’s a massive multi-million pound star, what is he going to know about dealing with housing and hurricanes? There’s very few of us that have lasted the 13 years since.
‘The houses are falling apart. New homes are going to have problems, a brand new structure is going to look rough round the edges pretty quick if you’re not on top of it, and the people in them may not know how to look after them and not have the financial capability.
Doris Wyman has been living in a Make It Right home for seven years with husband Henry and echoes Fowler’s words. Henry is a skilled handyman
Parts of the Lower Ninth Ward, like the home pictured above, are still dilapidated years after Hurricane Katrina
Across the Lower Ninth Ward, there are abandoned houses and boarded up churches. Many former residents have not returned since the hurricane
‘Make It Right housing is very sexy. They weren’t cheap, people think that Brad Pitt came down and gave these houses away, that didn’t happen, they cost $150,000, that’s around market value.
‘It’s not like they gave them away, you’re talking about a company that went through $100 million, now try to even get them on the phone. I have no idea why now you can’t get hold of them.
‘They went through so much money. Compare it to us, who spent $2 million on hundreds of houses. That’s $98 million more than us, we have only built just a few less than them.
‘But we’ve brought more families back. I could work for a thousand years if I had that funds and I’m not exaggerating.
‘That’s the difference between me and Brad Pitt, I’m not being snide, but you can’t expect the guy to know how to run a really tight ship and how to build low-wealth properties.
‘I think it’s very interesting, it’s a failed project, someone who tried to do the right thing, but didn’t know how to build property, or how to manage it, I think all the things are true what is being said.
‘They tried to do good, but they applied practices that don’t work here. For example, they did an architectural competition, and didn’t think of the porches, so they had to go back to the drawing board.
‘They didn’t want to use chemically treated wood, which I understand isn’t very green, but this isn’t Arizona, there’s termites and lots of rain.
‘They’ve had an executive director, who left and was never from the area. The man who is in there now, as they’re not building anything, I don’t understand why someone would take a job and want to steer a broken ship to the bottom of the sea.
‘I’m sure they’ve still got loads of donors, people drawing salaries, but they’re not building houses, only knocking them down.’
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