Brad Pitt took a few minutes with WWNO reporter Eileen Fleming to review the status of the Make it Right project he founded in the Lower Ninth Ward. Before hosting a fundraiser, he spent some time in the neighborhood. Here’s the first of two parts of that interview.
For my meeting with Brad Pitt for a 15-minute interview, I drove as instructed to a nearly complete home in the Make it Right neighborhood in Lower Ninth Ward. Security allowed me in, and I was shown to an empty back room where Brad Pitt was sitting by himself, behind a bare, simple fold-out table.
Q. “It is nice and echo-y in here because this is a brand new…
A. “ They’re so air tight that, I mean, you can’t hear – Claiborne’s right there and you cannot, you can’t hear it.”
Q. My first question: When was the last time you were here and what do you think of the changes you see here now?
A. “We’ve been trying to bring a film here every year. And the last time I spent extensive time was last spring where we shot a film here. And then I buzzed through in the fall to check on things, coming in and out kind of trip. And every time I come back you can see the neighborhood grow a little bit more. And coming over the Claiborne Bridge is my favorite sight. “
Q. Apparently that’s quite the tourism attraction as well. What are your thoughts on that?
“Well I feel for the neighborhood. I wish they could maybe profit from it in some way or have tours of something. But they’ve been you know, when we started this thing, we said, you know, we’d hate it if we brought in a circus. The neighborhood response was it’s already a circus. So I’m not sure how they deal with it, or if it’s actually a positive thing because this is such an emblem of change and survival and resilience and putting your life back together and putting together a new way. So I’m sure it’s a push-pull.”
Q. Have you been around to other projects, other housing developments, such as Habitat for Humanity, and what are your thoughts on those?
A. “Yeah. I’m a big fan of Habitat for Humanity. I’ve volunteered before with Habitat for Humanity. I love what they do. And they build a mass quantity of homes. They get a lot of people in, and the spirit of working together to build them with the families. It’s an amazing venture with great success. This project here was after something different, or we’re after something different. And that is – how do we define our neighborhoods for the future? If buildings are 45 percent of our pollution, if affordable housing is built with toxic materials where kids are plagued with asthma and run up their health bills and utility bills that almost keep people in a low-income trap. Does it have to be that way just because we’ve been doing it that way for so long? We want to see, with the community here, if we could build, for the same amount of money, we could drive the price down but build a house that was a home with dignity – dignity for the family, their paycheck, their health, their kids’ future, and it has been – we’ve had amazing, amazing results. And I think what, I think this goes so much, so much further beyond just one neighborhood. I mean, already, this is – this place that suffered great horror and historically was marginalized is now the most high-performing, healthy, greenest neighborhood in the country. And I think that’s a message that needs to get out. There is no reason we need to build any other way now. And you’ll see – you talk to these families whose utility bills were once $300 are now $28, $12, sometimes $7. It’s an amazing story.”
Q. You started, I think, was it 2007, and then thought, alright, we’re going to do 150 homes, is that correct?
A. “I came down first a few months after the hurricane and worked on a smaller project with Global Green. And then we expanded the idea here and got it going in ’07. So this is – what we see now, is four years of intense focus and families determined to come home and I can’t wait to see what the next four years is going to bring.”
Q. I think you’ve got 80 -- about 80 now?
A. “Uh huh. A few others under construction.
Q. I think you wanted, at the beginning, I think you said this will take a couple years. Was that naïve? Was it more complicated than you imagined?
A. “It is so much more complicated than I ever imagined. And, yes, it was complete naiveté. And I f I had seen all the roadblocks and all the hurdles we’d have to get across it probably would have looked too daunting. But we’ve had great people, great people who believe in what we’re doing here and solve these problems one by one and great solutions come out of them, actually. So, you know, our initial pledge was 150 homes. We’re not leaving after that. We’re here and we want to see how far this can grow.”
In Part 2, Pitt answers critics of the Make it Right plan, and if he’s seen evidence of Katrina fatigue among donors. Part 2 will air at 7:34 tomorrow morning.