New Orleans This is not a story of letting “no good deed go unpunished,” though it may seem a wee bit like that. It’s really more a story of “the devil is in the details.” Of course, this is a Katrina story in the long tail from the colossal hurricane that pounded the Gulf Coast and put New Orleans under water in 2005.
One of the mini-heroes of the post-Katrina recovery efforts seemed to be Brad Pitt, Mr. A-List Hollywood star. He raised a ton of money to build new housing in the area of the lower 9th Ward that had been decimated when the levee broke. His aim was to get big-name architects to design the homes and build hundreds of them through his Make it Right Foundation. Besides being a cinematic stalwart, Pitt was known as an architecture aficionado, so it all seemed to fit. He was frequently seen around the lower 9, riding a bicycle with his porkpie hat on or some chapeau or another. ACORN had good relations with his outfit. They even hired one of our topflight organizers, Tanya Harris, whom he personally promised something on the order of a job forever.
Longtime residents of the lower 9 had mixed feelings about the various houses. These architectural showpieces didn’t really fit well in this lower-income working family area in many ways. There were just concerns about gentrification, since a good portion of the houses were also going to white families in what had been an almost totally Black community. But the price was right. People needed homes and were glad to get them.
That is, until they moved in and lived in them for a while, and mold and other environmental problems started arising for many families. Corners had been cut in the construction. There were leaks in too many of the homes as they field tested some daring new designs and concepts. Chinese sheet rock produced emissions making some sick. Apologies were made. Promises were offered, but then everyone ended up in court and after four years of this and that, an agreement was reached that Make it Right would pay $20.5 million to 107 residents to correct the problems and make the construction right. The judge approved the order. Global Green a California nonprofit said it would make the payments on time. No one really went crazy on Pitt, giving him the benefit of the doubt about good intentions gone awry.
Unfortunately, in a front-page update, it turns out from the court papers that the judge was informed that Global Green didn’t actually come through with the money. Their CEO promised he would pay within ten days, and it turned out that the organization “didn’t actually have the money to back up the payment.”
They are still promising to pay, but god only knows when it will happen and the shoddy construction will be corrected, all of which makes this one more story of the long goodbye of Katrina. The calendar says it was almost 18 years ago, but to too many in New Orleans and to families in the lower 9th ward, it still seems like yesterday.