Superstar Helps House Katrina Victims

image6181675x.jpg
In New Orleans, new buildings look like the least likely structures to spring up in the Lower Ninth Ward: odd, angular, post-modern structures in the neighborhood hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina.
CBS

As the New Orleans Saints prepare to play in Super Bowl XLIV Sunday night, their home city has been inspired and energized.

But one neighborhood in particular still waits to be reborn. Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt has lent a hand and a collection of architects, catching attention and turning a lot of heads, reports CBS News Correspondent Jeff Glor.

New buildings look like the least likely structures to spring up in the Lower Ninth Ward: odd, angular, post-modern structures in the neighborhood hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina.

Overall, 78 percent of the pre-Katrina population has returned to New Orleans, but in the Lower Ninth the number is only 19 percent, according to the Greater New Orleans Data Center.

Residents like Ann Barfaite, who wanted to come back, had little to come back to.

"What happened to your house?" Glor asked Barfaite.

"I have no idea; I haven't seen it since the day I left it," Barfaite said.

Enter Make It Right, a non-profit organization, to revive the area. Pitt, who founded the organization, recruited 13 of the world's top architectural firms with two goals: design affordable housing and homes that are environmentally sustainable.

"What's amazing about this house is that it was designed to be able to float, and it has the ability to lift off its foundation in the event of another flood," said Tom Darden.

Costing $150,000 each, the houses have storm-resistant, energy-efficient windows, solar panels and garden rooftops.

"I didn't even know what green living was," said Dierdra Taylor. "We were just living."

For Taylor and her children - homeless after Katrina - Pitt is a saint.

"I love my home," Taylor said.

But there are critics who say the new homes are too close to the levee and too out of step with traditional New Orleans architecture.

"Well I think it's a good thing," Darden said. "The most important thing is the families we're working with are happy, and they worked closely with architects and multiple designs to come up with something that I think is a new representation of the Lower Ninth Ward."

With a little imagination, they are avant guard versions of the shotgun homes that once stood in the neighborhood, long and narrow with large porches. It's an idea that admittedly can take some getting used to.

"When we first saw the design, we were like, we don't want to live in nothing like that, we just want a regular house," Taylor said.

All around this neighborhood you see scenes with so-called steps to nowhere: empty lots where homes once stood. While questions have been raised about how these new houses look, the question is if Make It Right wasn't building them, who would be?

So far, Pitt's experiment seems to be a success where government efforts have failed. Fifteen houses are occupied with plans to build 150 in all, the homes often heavily subsidized to encourage ownership.

Whether eyesore or monument to the city's resilience, for residents of the Lower Ninth these structures offer something much more personal: a way home.

"My old home was built with wood and nails, and this home is built with love," Taylor said.

Brad Pitt is backing Make it Right with more than words alone. Last fall he pledged $5 million to the project.

Note: Before Sunday's Super Bowl, Make It Right is asking people to donate $10 by sending the phrase "SAINTS" in a text message to 25383.