BATON ROUGE – Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation and homeowners of the houses built by the program, in an area of New Orleans among the hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina, have reached a $20.5 million settlement.
The Times-Picayune ' The New Orleans Advocate reported Wednesday that, pending approval by a judge, each of the program's 107 homeowners will be eligible to receive $25,000 as reimbursement for previous repairs of the shoddy homes. Under the settlement reached Tuesday evening, the remaining money is to be divided up according to the condition of each of the structures.
The settlement represents a major milestone in the long-running saga of homes bleaguered by leaks, rot and other defects.
In 2007, two years after Katrina devastated Louisiana’s most populous city, the Hollywood celebrity founded the futuristic housing development organization. The goal was to replace lost housing in the city's flood-ruined Lower Ninth Ward with 150 avant-garde dwellings that were storm-safe and energy-efficient. The homes were made available at an average price of $150,000 to residents who received resettlement financing, government grants and donations from the foundation itself.
The project was praised initially, but 10 years and more than $26 million later, construction had halted. Residents reported sagging porches, mildewing wood and leaky roofs.
Make It Right acknowledged flaws in the architecture at least twice. First, in 2015, lawyers representing the organization sued the manufacturer of an ecologically friendly, water-resistant wood for $500,000, when the product proved to be no match for south Louisiana weather.
In 2018, Make It Right lawyers sued its own managing architect over what it said where millions of dollars in design defects. In 2021, the organization also sued its former executive director along with the former treasurer and other officials, accusing them of mismanaging the project.
As residents' complaints mounted, they filed a class-action lawsuit against Make It Right in 2018. The suit alleged that many of the houses were poorly built with inadequate materials. According to the suit, some of the homes suffered from rain leakage that caused rot, structural damage and mold. The suit also catalogued faulty heating, problems with cooling and ventilation systems, electrical malfunctions and plumbing mishaps.
Tuesday's settlement papers point out that responsibility for the defects to the homes has been “vigorously” contested. Attorney Ron Austin, who represented residents in the suit against Pitt and his charitable organization, framed the outcome in David versus Goliath terms.
“This is one of those scenarios when the impossible became possible,” Austin said.
The distribution of settlement funds to individual houses will be overseen by Global Green, a California-based nonprofit organization devoted to ecological concerns. The Times-Picayune ' The New Orleans Advocate reached out to Global Green for comment.