Sunday, October 26, 2008

Make it Right NOLA in the Lower Ninth Ward

These pictures were taken by my friend Christy as we drove around the Ninth Ward and into St. Bernard Parish. Read this sign carefully. They are going to demolish this house without letting the owner know. Of course, the owner might not want to come back, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of stories about families finally arranging the money to gut and renovate their houses and coming home to find the city has already demolished it. Often this happens in the name of Health- meaning someone out there has deemed the house un-fixable, unhealthy. It's a very shady issue.


So, we wanted to find Brad Pitt's Make it Right project. We saw it as we were already on the bridge going back to Uptown, so we turned around. You can spot these houses from far away; they look like nothing else in the neighborhood. One thing that is striking about the areas in the Ninth Ward where all that's left of houses are the cement foundations, is how nature is taking the area back. Weeds have grown taller than people, the space looks wide and isolated. It's hard to believe what seems like a country road was once a densely packed urban neighborhood.



Brad Pitt is helping some families take their lots back and build houses that are both ecologically friendly and higher on stilts, so hopefully they will survive the next big storm.

While I think Pitt's heart is certainly in the right place, and the houses really are amazing to look at, there is one problem I have: the cost efficiency problem. In Pitt's effort to make the houses ecologically friendly, which really might not be a top priority for families that just want to move home, the cost is quite high. To sponsor an entire house would be $150,000. In contrast, to sponsor a Habitat for Humanity home would cost around $85,000, (this is according to each organization's website). It's expensive to make a home "green." The solar panel alone costs $25,000. Might this be imposing his priorities and conditions onto a somewhat desperate situation? Then again, I'm sure he felt if he was going to help at all, it had to be the very best, all the way. That was my only complaint. It is an impressive project and I imagine the families in the homes are very happy with the outcome. I really do commend Pitt for doing this.
The Make it Right houses sit very close to the levee.(thanks for the correction)

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

great job, heather!!! those photos sure look great too! :)

Heather said...

The HuffingtonPost just ran an piece on Brad's cover of Architectural Digest and some of the commentors ask the same questions I do here. Here's the link:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/01/brad-pitt-high-from-new-o_n_147477.html

Anonymous said...

Brad has talked about how much more affordable the homes in MakeItRightNOLA are going to be for the families that inhabit them to operate day in, day out, Are the homes being built by others as affordable? Are they weather and flood resistant? All the MakeItRightNOLA homes are designed to utilize layout and other features to maximize energy efficiency, for instance. It is Brad's project and he gets to emphasize what he wants. Why isn't Habitat for Humanity?

Bunifah Alize Jenkins said...

But wont this save the families energy costs in the long run?

Anonymous said...

While I understand your concern (especially as I am not a NOLA resident), I really think you are nit-picking here a little bit. It does cost a little more to make a house green, but that is so short-sighted in terms of what it could save the family in the long run in terms of energy use/cost and survivability in future storms or hurricanes. I agree with the previous post that says its Brad's Project so therefore he can do what he wants.

As for the involuntary demolition, thats not under the directive of Brad Pitt but rather the municipality in clearing, like you said, a potential health hazard. If that family wanted that house back, dont you think they would have begun to restore it given this 3 and one-quarter year grace period? This is a good project and I think that we should be happy that a celebrity isn't just giving this a one-time money contribution. He is ALWAYS there it seems and this appears to be something he really enjoys, so let him do what he wants.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the previous comment. $150K for a more environmentally friendly house is cheap compared to what supposedly green builders charge in other parts of the US, especially if you break it down by cost per square foot.

At this point folks are happy to come home - period. He's also engaged and involved the community, which hasn't always been the case in the Lower 9.

By the way...it's LEVEE, not levy.

Heather said...

My real concern with the cost of the houses is that I think this is the reason so few houses have been built so far. Although I just recently read he now has gotten enough donations for many more houses...it's three years later and those families are still waiting for housing. Also, with the money it takes to build two of these homes you could build three Habitat homes. I like the project, I just think it's important to remember there are people who want to come back to New Orleans, waiting for housing...

Anonymous said...

I also appreciate your concerns as far as the monetary aspect goes but understand that these houses are nearly 100 Thousand Dollars LESS than Homes of comparable size and quality all over the country. Habitat for Humanity is a fine organization and I have never felt that HFH and MIR were in competition for the Ninth Ward.. Let's not throw the ugly babies out with the brack water here.. It is a process and will be a process for the next decade.

Standard building Practices no longer apply.. Not in NOLA and in truth, sustainability and conservation of resources should be a priority across Globe..

Anonymous said...

I can certainly understand your concerns regarding the expense of Mr. Pitt's structures as opposed to those of habitat. Mr. Pitt has confessed a love for architecture. His structures are lovely to look at but are they feasible?

Jason_M said...

Great post, thanks.

Another issue is overall community design and designing for use by people who will live there. Will these houses stick out and be seen as ugly by local residents, though they may be architecturally cool?

Heather said...

So, the post was picked by the Feminist Forum. I wish people would leave more comments on THIS the original post, but you can read them here:

http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/board/not-entirely-happy-with-make-it-right-t204220.html