As first reported on August 17 by Doug MacCash for the Times Picayune | New Orleans Advocate, lawyers for Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation have reached a preliminary $20.5 million settlement with homeowners in the city’s Lower Ninth Ward as part of a class action lawsuit brought against the embattled nonprofit nearly four years ago.
The lawsuit alleges fraud, breach of contract, and other charges stemming from the shoddy design and construction of Make It Right’s affordable, replicable, and ultra-sustainable homes designed by a roster of acclaimed international architects (Frank Gehry, David Adjaye, Alejandro Aravena, Shigeru Ban, and Thom Mayne to name just a new) and built out in phases beginning in 2007, two years after Katrina ravaged the Crescent City. While the Make It Right community initially served as a post-storm architectural tourist attraction (a factor that came with its own set of problems for its previously displaced residents), it didn’t take long for the faulty nature of the LEED Platinum-certified homes, which cost a total of $26.8 million to construct, to emerge as homeowners grappled with leaks, mold, rotting wood, structural issues, faulty plumbing, electrical, and HVAC systems, and other woes.
The lawsuit also alleges that calls for maintenance and repairs largely went ignored as the elevated homes continued to deteriorate. One vacated, Adjaye Associates–designed home was ultimately demolished in 2020 after it was deemed a public safety hazard. A home designed by KieranTimberlake was also condemned and razed the year prior. A handful of others are currently abandoned.
Although only six impacted plaintiffs are named in the suit, all Make It Right homeowners—107 in total—are eligible to each receive $25,000 as reimbursement for repairs conducted on the defective homes. The rest of the settlement—minus attorney’s fees—will be divided up and used to remedy current problems at the homes.
The settlement, which will be paid by environmental nonprofit Global Green, is now pending a sign-off from a judge in Orleans Parish Civil District Court.
“I am incredibly grateful for Global Green’s willingness to step up and provide this important support for the Lower Ninth families,” said Pitt in a statement. “We collaborated in the early days post-Katrina and we are very fortunate to have Global Green’s generous continuing commitment to help address the challenges around these homes and others in need. Hopefully this agreement will allow everyone to look ahead to other opportunities to continue to strengthen this proud community in the future.”
Pitt initially denied any responsibility for the myriad issues with the homes, with his lawyers arguing that because he had no role in designing or constructing them he shouldn’t be held culpable. As previously reported by AN, Make It Right sued the project’s principal architect, John C. Williams, on September 19, 2018, in civil court on allegations of providing defective design work, acknowledged that fixing rain-damaged homes could cost up to $20 million. Williams referred to the “baseless” lawsuit as “shocking and insulting.” Lawyers representing the class action plaintiffs also filed a motion asking that the case be transferred to federal court because three of the former officers live in North Carolina, because the final settlement could top $5 million, and because Make It Right was incorporated in Delaware.
In October 2019, a federal judge ruled against the earlier motion made by Pitt’s attorneys to remove the actor as a defendant in the case.
Last April, the Make It Right Foundation sued its former executive director, Tom Darden III, and other former top officials in New Orleans Civil District Court. That suit alleged that Darden and others misled fellow foundation leaders, Pitt included, and partook in widespread project mismanagement from 2007 through 2016.
Back in the Lower Ninth, there is some relief among Make It Right homeowners now that a settlement has finally been reached. Skepticism, however, does remain. “I’ve been so disappointed,” homeowner Patricia Lewis told the Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate of her experience with the foundation. At her own relatively new and purportedly storm-resilient home on Tennessee Avenue, Lewis has dealt an electrical fire and a front porch on the verge of collapse. “It sounds exciting, if it ever happens,” she said of the promised financial help for repairs stemming from the lawsuit.