Hollywood A-lister Brad Pitt’s New Orleans-based nonprofit Make It Right Foundation is under fire after a project to develop homes in Kansas City has stalled for more than a year.
Pitt’s foundation announced plans to build as many as 50 new single-family homes in February 2015, the Kansas City Star reported. But with little progress made nearly a year and a half later, community leaders are left to question if the project will ever be completed.
Though Make It Right has purchased six parcels of land in Mannheim Park, construction has yet to begin. And the organization has so far failed to explain the reasons behind the delay.
“I contacted the folks at Make It Right and they said give them about 45 days,” Dianne Cleaver, executive director of the Urban Neighborhood Initiative, which oversees the rebuilding of Kansas City’s east side, told the Star. “They’re reassessing. This was two to three weeks ago and it was an email. I called two or three people. Via email, they responded that they were trying to reassess the situation.”
Meanwhile, nearly half of the nonprofit’s top officials are no longer employed there.
Tim Duggan, Make It Right Foundation’s lead director of innovations, no longer works for the charity. Former CEO Tom Darden reportedly stepped down, and the foundation’s website does not list his replacement or an interim CEO.
Cleaver said the organization had experienced some changes since its founding in 2007.
“I think they have seven or nine board members, and four of them are gone, they’re being replaced,” Cleaver told the Star. “So they seem to be just in some restructuring, directional challenges.”
Brad Pitt’s organization has finished housing projects in New Orleans, however those homes have been riddled with problems.
Make It Right built about 110 homes, many of them in the city’s Ninth Ward, according to Thom Pepper, executive director of Common Ground Relief, a New Orleans advocacy group.
Pepper said many of the homes had architectural defects. Flat roofs in a rainy climate reportedly forced Make It Right to rebuild some of its houses. The foundation also reportedly used wood that started rotting quickly after the homes were already inhabited.
Make It Right Foundation also had problems that extended beyond construction issues.
The New Orleans Redevelopment Authority published a report in December that showed that Make It Right Foundation’s homes cost about $225 per square foot, given the average 1,400-square-foot size of houses it had built in the Ninth Ward.
Laura Paul, executive director of housing nonprofit Lowernine.org, told the Star that her organization’s housing construction costs were way less, at about $50 per square foot. Paul said even energy-efficient homes, like the ones the Make It Right Foundation built in New Orleans, can be built for $120 to $140 per square foot.
Pepper was reportedly dismayed to learn Make It Right had announced projects in Kansas City and Newark, New Jersey.
“We were like, what do you mean, Newark and Kansas City?” Pepper said. “You haven’t finished what you said you were going to do here and you’re expanding into other markets. What’s going on?”