Vacant and open to the elements, neighbors say this Make It Right house has become an eyesore. Residents moved out two years ago so the roof could be repaired, but the project has dragged on. Credit: Karen Gadbois / The Lens

Make It Right seems to have made it blight in the Lower 9th Ward.

With repairs stalled for two years on one of its iconic, modernist homes, the Make It Right Foundation wants to demolish the building just seven years after it was built.

The vacant house at 5012 N. Derbigny St., the subject of a code enforcement hearing Tuesday, stands in sharp contrast to its well-manicured neighbors. Its windows and doors are missing, and shredded tarps hang off the roof.

Make It Right’s ambitious program was launched by Brad Pitt in 2007, with a plan to build 150 affordable, safe, “green” homes so residents could return to their flooded neighborhood. The Lower 9th Ward was devastated by the water that rushed in when a section of floodwall along the Industrial Canal collapsed as Hurricane Katrina approached Louisiana.

In a 2009 story, The New York Times called the development “Brad Pitt’s Gifts to New Orleans.

But this house tells a different story.

The 1,350 square-foot house was designed by the Philadelphia firm KieranTimberlake. It was based on a model that employed innovative, energy-saving and environmentally friendly features, such as pipes to collect rainwater and a wood trellis to allow vines to create a natural canopy.

Reginald Moliere of Little Rock, Arkansas, purchased the house in May 2011, soon after it was finished. A family member named Alexander said in the code-enforcement hearing that he and his wife were living there in 2015 when his wife started having health problems related to mold. They learned the roof was leaking.

They contacted Make It Right, which had provided warranties with the homes, and arrangements were made for repairs.

In December 2015, local architect John Williams submitted plans to the city to replace the flat roof with a sloped one.

The family moved out the following February.

Two years later, the property is a half-finished construction site. The city has cited the property numerous times for code violations, including construction debris, unsecured openings, and the shredded roof tarps.

No one in the code enforcement hearing said why the construction had been delayed, and James Mazzuto, chief operating officer for Make It Right, wouldn’t comment for this story.

Hearing officer Lee Phillips made it clear that the hearing was about code violations, not issues between the property owner, the neighbors and the developer. He said the hearing wasn’t “the Jerry Springer show” and his role was to decide whether to impose a fine, not to decide who was at fault for the leaks.

Phillips went on to explain that a contractor had applied for a permit to demolish the property, and that application will go before the city’s Neighborhood Conservation District Advisory Committee on April 30.

Make It Right is paying for that demolition, according to a contract filed with the demolition application.

Constance Fowler, one of the neighbors who attended the hearing, said she was disheartened to see 14 blight violations “against the owner of the property when everything that has happened to that house is because Make It Right took off the roof off and tarped it.”

It’s unclear what will happen to the site after the home is torn down; the demolition application says it will be a vacant lot.

Phillips assured the neighbors that the city is taking the proper steps to review the demolition application. He reset the hearing for June 25. By then, the building should be gone.

This story was changed after publication to add additional details about the house. (April 18, 2018)

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...