Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in late August 2005, leaving heaps of debris where homes once stood, and tragically taking more than 1,800 lives in all.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie bought a row house in the French Quarter the next year, and Pitt began supporting efforts to rebuild the Crescent City. In 2007, he founded , an organization that builds quality, eco-friendly houses for those who need them most.
To date, the non-profit has built 109 houses in the section most ravaged by Katrina. Some of the world's most celebrated architects, including Frank Gehry, designed the tall, angular, solar-paneled homes that now line the streets of the Lower 9th Ward. The residents—limited to teachers, first responders, and people who lived or had family members in in the neighborhood before Hurricane Katrina devastated it—chose the designs they liked, the exterior paint colors, and the amenities. The families are the ones who designed the neighborhood, Pitt told Doug MacCash of the .
"I'll tell you, every time I drive over the Claiborne bridge, no matter what frustration I might be dealing with at the moment, I get this well of pride when I see this little oasis of color and the solar panels," Pitt said.
Built with reusable, non-toxic materials and solar panels, and filled with energy efficient appliances, the homes are a reflection of Pitt's belief that low-income housing does not have to use "the cheapest materials that keep families in a poverty trap." Though initial materials may be costly, they contribute to overall better quality of life later on.
The houses sell at a loss, for about $150,000 each. Financial assistance makes the mortgages less intimidating.
Pitt said he's driven through the neighborhood and struck up conversations with homeowners sitting on their porches. "I say what's your utility bill? And they'll throw something out like, '24 bucks' or something, and I feel fantastic," said Pitt. "It's a reminder of why we're there."
There are more houses on the way, with Make It Right breaking ground on new projects every month.
Take a look at the Lower 9th Ward's progression: