Brad Pitt’s Make It Right is back in court, suing its former director over faulty homes project | News

It was supposed to be a utopia in the Lower 9th Ward, a shining example of philanthropists making up for the myriad failures of government. Instead, Brad Pitt’s Make It Right avant-garde housing development has become ground zero for a cluster bomb of lawsuits that pit the organization against residents and its own former leaders.

On Friday, the Make It Right Foundation sued its former executive director, Tom Darden III, along with the former treasurer and other officials, accusing them of mismanaging the $65 million project between 2007 and 2016. The suit, filed in in Civil District Court, also alleges that Darden and the others misled fellow Make It Right officials, including Pitt.

Make It Right’s lawyer claims that Darden and the other executives are solely liable for any damages the court might impose on the nonprofit foundation for faulty design or shoddy construction of the 109 homes it built.

Make It Right was the most striking post-Katrina residential building project. As the hurricane roared through New Orleans in August 2005, a breach in the Industrial Canal floodwall led to sudden, catastrophic flooding in the neighborhood north of the Claiborne Bridge. In the aftermath, Pitt, a Hollywood leading man and part-time New Orleanian, became a real-life hero, employing his considerable magnetism to raise millions to replace the lost homes in the area.

And they weren’t just any homes. Pitt invited some of the world’s greatest architects — Shigeru Ban, Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry, to name a few — to draw up dwellings that would be highly energy efficient, ecologically conscious and decidedly untraditional.

Residents of Brad Pitt’s Make It Right development warned of potential gas leaks (copy)

A row of audaciously designed Make It Right homes stand in New Orleans’ lower Ninth Ward in 2013. 

Make It Right began building the homes in 2008 and offering them at affordable prices to former residents and others. The non-profit organization didn’t just rebuild a neighborhood, it produced a post-Katrina tourist attraction.

But the foundation’s glory was dimmed as reports of construction flaws began leaking from the neighborhood. Part of the problem was a purportedly weatherproof lumber called TimberSIL that was meant to hold up for decades but swiftly began rotting. Make It Right sued the lumber company for $500,000, though it’s unclear if TimberSIL was made to pay. Though many of the homes were sound, by the 10th anniversary of the project, in 2018, one house had so deteriorated that it had to be demolished. Since then, another was bulldozed.

The teeth of a backhoe bit into the blighted house at 1826 Reynes St. in the Lower 9th Ward on Tuesday afternoon. The avant-garde dwelling, de…

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Later that year, two residents sued Make It Right, claiming they were sold defective homes. They were harbingers of a class-action lawsuit that could eventually include other Make It Right home owners and cost the foundation millions.

Shifting the spotlight, Make It Right then sued its overseeing architect, John C. Williams, blaming him for some of the defects in the homes. Now, Make It Right has also singled out Darden and three others as the parties responsible for the troubled architecture.

Brad Pitt wants Make It Right homeowners’ lawsuit against him dismissed

What was once an avant-garde architecture development meant to restore a flood-ruined 9th Ward neighborhood has become a legal battleground. B…

Specifically, Friday’s lawsuit claims that in 2009 and 2010, Darden and the other former officers had not immediately used donations to construct houses. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, they had tied up money in the highly regulated federal New Markets Tax Credit Program, which is meant to foster investment in low-income communities.

Doing so temporarily stalled construction, then required Make It Right to embark on a hasty “Blitz Build” program to finish homes, the suit alleges. The stopping and starting resulted in the flawed design decisions and added costs that plagued the project, according to the lawsuit.

Make It Right attorney Sharonda Williams declined to answer questions about the suit. Darden could not immediately be reached for comment. 

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Make it Right Foundation homes in 2018. 

In a written statement, New Orleans architect John C. Williams fired back at Make It Right, his client for the past 12 years. Brad Pitt’s Make…

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