Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation sues architect over ‘defective’ New Orleans homes

Brad Pitt addresses a press conference about his plans to spend US$12 million with his "Make It Right Project" to build 150 ecologically sustainable homes Dec. 3, 2007 in New Orleans. Matthew HINTON/AFP/Getty Images

Brad Pitt’s foundation has sued a New Orleans architect, saying defective design work led to leaks and other flaws in homes built for residents of an area that was among the hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, says damages caused by architect John C. Williams could cost Pitt’s Make It Right foundation more than US$15 million, news outlets reported.

The foundation paid Williams’ firm millions of dollars to produce architectural drawings for more than 100 homes under the program, which was supposed to provide Lower Ninth Ward residents with sustainable and affordable new homes.

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The Fight Club actor founded the venture two years after Katrina devastated the city and essentially washed away what would become the Make It Right enclave.

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Construction began in 2008, working toward replacing the lost housing with 150 dwellings that were storm-safe, solar-powered, highly insulated and “green.” But water intrusion began cropping up in the first homes within a year of their completion and construction was discontinued in 2016.

Pitt’s foundation says Williams was responsible for several failures to adequately waterproof the structures, including insufficiently sloped roofs.

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The lawsuit says Williams’ attempts at repairs were largely a failure and that he kept Make It Right management in the dark about the defects.

A 7-year-old home was so rotted that it was demolished at the insistence of neighbours in June. Williams had been granted a permit to replace the flat roof on the leaking home in 2015.

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The architect had acknowledged in a June interview that one or two of the Make It Right buildings “may be falling apart.”

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In a statement, Make It Right pledged to “continue to work proactively with homeowners in the Lower Ninth Ward.”

The lawsuit comes after New Orleans lawyer Ron Austin brought a class-action lawsuit against Make It Right that accused the foundation of building substandard homes that are deteriorating at a rapid pace.

The lawsuit against Pitt’s Make It Right foundation was brought on behalf of residents Lloyd Francis and Jennifer Decuir, who Austin said have reported sicknesses, headaches, and infrastructural issues

Some homes are falling apart and residents have reported sagging porches, mildew on wood and leaky roofs.

“Essentially, Make It Right was making a lot of promises to come back and fix the homes that they initially sold these people and have failed to do so,” Austin said.

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He added that the residents “were forced to file this lawsuit because the Make It Right Foundation built substandard homes that are deteriorating at a rapid pace while the homeowners are stuck with mortgages on properties that have diminished values.”

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Francis and Decuir state in the document that they “were and are extremely grateful to Mr. Pitt for spearheading the rebuilding of the Lower Ninth Ward because their neighbourhood housed more than their homes. It housed their community.”

They also allege that Make It Right was aware of issues with the materials used to build homes by 2013 but “never provided homeowners with notice of these design and material defects” even with the residents paying for mortgages on the homes.

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On Tuesday, Make It Right blamed the rapid deterioration on the architect they hired.

The lawsuit against Williams does not hold him liable for the damages to 39 homes caused by the use of an experimental weatherproof wood product called TimberSIL that was rapidly ruined by the southern Louisiana environment.

In 2014, Make It Right sued the manufacturer of TimberSIL for $500,000, though it’s unclear if the company was made to pay.

Williams has not commented on the lawsuit as of this writing.

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—With files from the Associated Press

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