Kamaria Allen had no plans to return to the Lower 9th Ward after losing everything in Hurricane Katrina. But then she saw the new houses.
Billed as flood-safe and futuristic, the Make It Right homes towered over vacant lots in pops of teal, lemon and lavender. Houses like that just didn’t exist in the working-class, mostly black section of New Orleans that Allen’s family had called home for four generations — and definitely not for $130,000.
“I called it my Mardi Gras float,” Allen says of 1826 Reynes Street, the roof deck-topped home that now sits abandoned — mushrooms growing from its split siding, wooden boards propping up its sagging roof. Allen bought the house in 2011 from the Make It Right Foundation, a charity formed by Brad Pitt to help Lower 9th Ward residents return home after the hurricane.
Make It Right’s mission was to build 150 well-designed, green, affordable homes in the Lower 9th Ward, the area hardest hit by Katrina. As of 2016, the group reported spending $26.8 million building 109 homes, fueling the most visible recovery effort in an area still reeling from the storm.
But Allen and 11 other residents who spoke to NBC News, 10 of them on the record, say that many of the Make It Right homes are rotting and dangerous. They complain of mold and collapsing structures, electrical fires and gas leaks. They say the houses were built too quickly, with low-quality materials, and that the designs didn’t take into account New Orleans’ humid, rainy climate.
“This has been years of ongoing lies and broken promises,” Allen said in a recent interview in which she detailed Make It Right’s pledges and failures to repair her home.
As the problems worsened, the organization has all but disappeared. Make It Right hasn’t built a home, filed tax forms or updated its website since 2015. The downtown New Orleans office has been closed, the staff has been cut to a handful and residents say their calls go unreturned. While Pitt ordered inspections for the homes in 2016, according to a spokesperson, residents say they’re still waiting for the results and for much-needed repairs.
Linda Jackson, a longtime resident and founder of the Lower 9th Ward Homeowners Association, a group that advocates affordable homeownership and resident-driven redevelopment, said the majority of Make It Right’s homes are now vacant. “It’s just not working out,” she said.