Four years after the lawsuit against them was initially filed, Brad Pitt and his Make It Right Foundation have reached a preliminary settlement with plaintiffs over homes built for Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Pitt and the foundation have reached a preliminary settlement agreement, which still needs to be approved by a judge, of $20.5 million, according to court documents seen by The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate, in the lawsuit accusing them of defective design and building practices, breach of contract, and fraud. Even though only six homeowners are actually named in the lawsuit, Make It Right will pay out that amount to all owners of the homes it built in the Lower Ninth Ward, as the class-action lawsuit settlement applies to all homeowners unless they choose to opt out. According to the Picayune, the 107 homeowners in the program will each be eligible to receive $25,000 as reimbursement for the repairs they’ve already had to make on their faulty properties. After attorney fees are paid, the rest of the money will be divided up according to the scale of the problem each property is facing.
The payment and distribution of that $20.5 million will be handled by the nonprofit Global Green, an organization dedicated to addressing environmental issues. In a statement released on Thursday, Pitt said, “I am incredibly grateful for Global Green’s willingness to step up and provide this important support for the Lower Ninth families. 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.”
About two years after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans, Pitt founded Make It Right in 2007, going on to help raise millions of dollars on behalf of his nonprofit organization to build energy-efficient homes designed by some of the world’s biggest architects, including Frank Gehry, Thom Mayne, and Shigeru Ban. The construction of these homes cost around $26.8 million, or about $250,000 per home, which was paid for with donations, according to Make It Right’s 2015 tax filings cited by the Picayune; the properties were then sold to former residents of the area for an average of $150,000. But shortly after residents moved in, they began complaining about some serious issues, including leaks that caused rot, structural damage, and mold, as well as faulty heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, electrical malfunctions, and bad plumbing. Two homes even had to be torn down within a decade after being built because of the rot, while others properties have since been boarded up, the Picayune notes.
According to the newspaper, the Make It Right Foundation has at least twice acknowledged that there were some flaws with its properties, suing the manufacturer of the lumber used to build the homes in 2015 for $500,000, with the two parties later settling out of court; and then suing its own managing architect, John C. Williams, in 2018, accusing him of being responsible for the millions of dollars in design defects. Williams has denied wrongdoing and called the allegations “shocking and insulting and we intend to prove that we were not at fault.” In April of last year, Make It Right also sued several former officials in its organization over their alleged mismanagement of the construction project.