Aug. 29, 2005 is a calendar date many can never forget. Forever mourning the loss of 1,833 lives, residents of the Gulf Coast are still recovering nearly a decade later. Per statistics from the Make It Right Foundation, 5,363 homes were destroyed in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans alone. Brad Pitt arrived in the city two years post Katrina and was shocked by the lack of progress in the catastrophically devastated community. This led Pitt to found Make It Right in 2007.
Brad wanted to do more than donate to the displaced citizens. He wanted to “make it right” for New Orleanians by rebuilding their lives along with their homes. Brad had a vision of safe, sustainable green homes that were energy efficient, not cheap or poorly made, and not just for New Orleans. He believed quality homes could be built everywhere, and Pitt has found great satisfaction in the success of Make It Right.
“I’ll tell you, every time I drive over the Claiborne bridge, no matter what frustration I might be dealing with at the moment, I get this well of pride when I see this little oasis of color and the solar panels,” Brad Pitt said during a telephone conversation with New Orleans newspaper The Times Picayune on Friday.
After the push from Pitt to start the process, construction began in June 2008 and the first six homes were completed in August 2008.
One hundred and nine vibrant and colorful homes have been built to date at an average cost of $150,000 per home. Green features in Make It Right homes include: solar panels, ENERGY STAR® appliances, no-VOC paints and flooring, pervious concrete and high-velocity air conditioners.
“I drive into the neighborhood and I see people on their porch,” Pitt continued, “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. It’s a reminder of why we’re there. It’s a reminder of why we push like we push. It makes it all worthwhile.”
Brad beamed about his volunteer architectural team.
“Listen, we were very fortunate that they would come in, but they felt the need as well. Actually, this is the definition of architecture: It is solving problems through design. And, again, we’re not talking about aesthetics; we’re talking about function, and that is the holy grail of architecture. So I was grateful, but it wasn’t surprising to me for them to jump in and want to tackle this and find solutions for this. Especially with everything we were witnessing on the news and the suffering of the people.”
Brad Pitt lives in New Orleans part-time. He is an ecologist and an architecture enthusiast.
“What we have learned, which was the original premise, is that you do not have to build low-income housing with the cheapest materials that keep families in a poverty trap,” he said. “Whether that be running up high utility bills or with toxic materials that run up your doctor bills. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Lower Ninth Ward resident Tanya Harris watched from a New Orleans hotel room as her home filled up with water. She serves alongside Brad Pitt as the Make It Right community outreach manager. Harris offered to answer online questions about Katrina and how New Orleans is coping 10 years later. Per the Make It Right blog, Tanya was asked why the Lower 9th Ward was so “grossly neglected” by City Hall officials.
“While I can’t speak for the city of New Orleans,” answered Harris, “I can say that organizations like Make It Right and others were formed in reaction to the slow pace of recovery in the Lower 9th Ward. Community activism forged strong leadership and more cohesiveness and cooperation among existing groups in the neighborhood.”
Harris pointed out the progress that her Lower 9 New Orleans neighborhood has made in the past decade.
“The city has repaved roads, partially in pervious concrete to reduce flooding, and planted new trees along the new streets. Dr. Martin Luther King High School, a $38 million dollar building, is currently under construction just blocks away from Make It Right’s neighborhood. The wonderful Sanchez Community Center, a 65,000-square-foot facility with a pool, a gym, commercial kitchen, performance space, health clinic and senior center opened in the neighborhood over a year ago. Restaurants and retail shops are cropping up around the community – and Make It Right is working to redevelop commercial space along Claiborne Avenue.”
In addition to the homes continually being built in New Orleans, Make It right projects are ongoing in Newark and Kansas City. Busy Brad lends his time generously to the foundation. One of Pitt’s current movie projects, By the Sea, is set for a November 13 release. Brad is co-acting and co-directing the feature with wife Angelina Jolie, as previously reported by the Inquisitr. When he is not working a feature film, or raising his brood of children, Brad Pitt also serves as a donor and board member for Make It Right.
[Image by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images]