Are the Brad Pitt Houses Making a Difference in New Orleans?

by Rebecca Schoenkopf

It’s been six years since we peeled our eyeballs off our TV screens and went on with the rest of our lives—at least those of us whose lives weren’t spit out by Katrina. More than 1800 people made the official list of the dead, but no one ever kept track of the missing.

More than 65,000 houses were deemed blighted in New Orleans, mashed to bits by the storm and covered in mold, and then left (particularly in the Lower Ninth ward) to rot; in the six years since, the number’s been reduced to a little over 40,000. According to the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, fully 25 percent of New Orleans structures are blighted, topping Cleveland, Detroit, and Flint, Michigan.

So how does New Orleans look lately? How does it feel?

view from the Roosevelt
view from the Roosevelt

We had the immense pleasure of a trip there last month during the massive East Coast and heartland heat wave. The tourist-happy parts of the city are as shiny and packed with fun and beauty as ever—the French Quarter and the elegant hotels that serve it; the roiling Frenchmen Street (where I’m reasonably sure Steve Earle got murdered on Treme) on which you will see hundreds of people milling in front of someone playing a sidewalk show, with hundreds and hundreds more in the clubs; the fine dining and fine music and fine hotels and fine everything for those of us from elsewhere, and at cut-rate prices. At my hotel, the Roosevelt, a glorious vision of the 1890s that was refurbished by Waldorf-Astoria to exacting modern standards, actual movie stars* were hanging by the pool bar between shoots. A Baptist convention was meeting, meaning I got to see fabulous old ladies congregating in the lobby in outstandingly flouncy purple dresses and matching hats. But my very favorite moment might have been watching an old white bellhop carrying bags for a contentedly portly black customer. This, this is quite nice, no?

Our helpful concierge had many options at the ready for touring the Lower Ninth ward, along with the houses Brad Pitt and the Make It Right Foundation have been building. The very worst option, obviously, was to do it in a limousine, and yet that was his very first suggestion. We thanked him, but certainly not. Eventually, we just hailed a cab driven by a Haitian dude who took us in the rain to the verdant, almost tropical Lower Ninth, where there were more bare foundations than there were homes. He knew all the city’s stats, and those for the Lower Ninth. This must be a rite performed by every out-of-towner, like lighting a candle: a little remembrance, focus on others, a little penance for the decadence that will both precede and follow the pilgrimage.

More than 4,000 houses in the Lower Ninth were destroyed by the storm. The houses Pitt has commissioned to replace a few of them are beautiful: ultra-modern, funky, dual-toned in jazzy and bold complementary colors, updated with all the most progressive ecological amenities. Some of the homes in the tract clearly weren’t from Pitt and Make It Right—they were little vinyl-sided prefabs that looked like they might have been ordered from Lowe’s—and yet everyone in the neighborhood was house-proud. It was clear just driving down the little street that people who lived there were desperate to show that they lived there, they were not gone, they lived there yet. Every house that wasn’t abandoned had perfectly placed patio furniture out front, and the requisite cheerful doodads by the door.

The Make It Right Foundation has completed 50 homes, and they’re gorgeous, appealing to even the worst design snobs. There are plans for 100 more. But why is it up to one movie star to make it right? How much can he do? The Hyatt Regency gave $300,000 to Make It Right recently, which, good for them and etc. The Hyatt Regency also spent $275 million on its own redesign.

Make It Right home
Make It Right home

Meanwhile, a federal program called The Road Home has only as of late 2010 managed to mete out three-quarters of the more than $10 billion that had been allocated for distressed homeowners by the feds, and with that same program, a court found prima facie evidence of discrimination: black homeowners had received markedly lower awards than homeowners in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Of course they did.

And with so very many properties impacted, rents have increased by half, making hard circumstances half-again harder.

People have been coming home to New Orleans—a lucky few of them thanks to Brad Pitt. But he can’t be our shelter in the face of all our coming storms.

We have broken the weather, and there will be more storms of worse intensity, and Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor doesn’t want to help anyone impacted by disaster unless we cut something from poor people elsewhere.

It’s time for action and to open our wallets. And if you’ve got to take a vacation somewhere, the folks in New Orleans are most excellent hosts. Just grab any old cab driver while you’re there. He’ll know just exactly where your pilgrimage starts.

*Well, Josh Duhamel. He was very nice! But I had so little interest in his Life As We Know It, where he and Katherine Heigl get them an orphan, that even though it was playing on the in-room movie mere hours after I’d met him, I still could not bring myself to watch it. I have watched it since. It is just as gross as you could presume.

Rebecca Schoenkopf is the former editor-in-chief of LA CityBeat and former senior editor at OC Weekly, where she wrote about art, music, politics and more. She taught political science at UC Irvine and was an Annenberg Fellow at USC, receiving her master's in Specialized Journalism focusing on urban policy in May 2011. She lives with her son in a neighborhood we'll just call Hancock Park-adjacent. Follow her on Twitter at


i wanna go!  i wanna go!

2011-08-26 by donna

BOY should we go! Mama, have you been to New Orleans? Did you and John go once?

2011-08-26 by Rebecca Schoenkopf

I think theres alot of Homeland Insecurity out there, to be sure.

I think you should investigate job demand in England. Tell them youre a specialist in SoCal. Theyll buy anything.

As long a its cheap enough.

Hector the English with protestations of the accomplishments of Al Jazeera, then stick the knife in-

Rupert Murdoch reads the mail before recipients.

Julian Assange is in jail.

There are riots on the streets of London.

Even Hugh Grant complains, and that should be enough. Rebecca, you dont know what a softie I am, nor should you. Perhaps Ill never see you again. But Id rather never see you again with you in London, and safe by the hearth:


2011-08-27 by robert hagen

We’ve been to NOLA twice, all pre-Katrina.  I feel somewhat up-to-date on how its going, or not going, because I listen to Harry Shearer on KCRW.  I very much want to go and see the city again but know that when I see waste, lost opportunity, lack of governmental and private caring with the exception of Brad Pitt, I get nutsy with frustration and am overpowered by my wanting to fix stuff and get it right!  Designers are like that, especially the fix it up right part.  Consequently we have not returned, yet.  Bill is afraid I’ll lose it and start yelling at all the white tourists “What the hell is the matter with all you people?”  He is right, of course.

2011-08-27 by Judy English, aka 50% Crudlish

How I met Rebecca Schoenkopf

  It all started when I was born. Moving forward in the story, I was on my way to Long Beach in the year 2005. I got laid up in Orange County, and this is what ensued. In the middle of the night, with nothing better to do than peruse a free alternative weekly, I picked up the OC Weekly. Therein, I espied one certain columnist of note- Rebecca Schoenkopf aka Commie Girl. I was captivated.

Furthering my investigations via the device of reading later copies of her writing in the OC Weekly, I espied a public notice of her certain appearance, at a Habitat for Humanity Fundraiser for victims of the hurricane Katrina. I took notice.


I said to myself.

Heres my chance to approach glory.

It was in a dimmed, subdued, inner city redevelopment style decorated coffee shop in the very unlikely city of Santa Ana where the convocation of English speakers occurred, the rest of the city being fully oblivious to the goings on therein, by plain virtue of the fact that almost noone in Santa Ana has the sheer capacity to speak English. I digress.

She entered, as a visage, a wondrous beauty. There are some things that are too good to be true, and then theres Rebecca.

We traded small remarks, each of us I think, captivated with each other.


2011-08-27 by robert hagen

How a Global Bidding War Shall be Ignited
(to engage the services of one Rebecca Schoenkopf)

What´s to say about Buenos Aires, Argentina, other than it offers the most attractive working space in the world.

New York? Over run by Wall Street rats.

Sao Paulo? Overpriced even by New York’s bloated standards.

Paris? A nice place to visit, but you wouldn´t want to get bent over a table there.

Los Angeles? Largely overtaken by illegal aliens with attitudes, serving you something that´s probably been spit in, if you´re lucky.
Then theres the hard charging police force with the dry cleaned Ku Klux Klan uniforms, ready at a moment´s notice to burn a cross over someone´s civil rights. Add to that the blight, then combine that by the factor of it being the only major target that Chinese nuclear missiles can hit, and L.A. is a place you might want to visit, just dont count on GPS for your freeway off ramp, or the detour could be fatal. Or some chick or other might rush toward your car and ask if you want to have sex. In short, anything can happen.

San Diego? If you want to check in to Guantanamo West, San Diego is like the Hotel California- you never check out.

San Francisco? Im down for that, its a completely down city. Civilized, that´s what it is. I wouldn´t want a blood transfusion there, but hey, it is what it is at the end of the day.

Buenos Aires:

The world’s leading city, far and away. Pay packages? Handsome, especially given the very reasonable cost of living. Culture?

Argentina’s culture has not yet been detected by SETI, but many mistake Argentine excellence for some sort of ethereal, otherworldly experience. Sporting events? Polo with the English, of course. Tennis is favored, soccer is


people with pacemakers may not wish to proceed with further descriptions of the quality of Argentine soccer. Strictly for liability reasons, we shall proceed:

Association of Futbol Argentina official web site:

Recent Smithsonian Magazine articles on Buenos Aires:


Rebecca, Buenos Aires is your world, I believe you were created by God to grace Argentina. Its your home, today and tomorrow.

2011-08-29 by Robert Hagen

This is a special dedication, Miguel Mateos, Losing Control:

2011-08-30 by robert hagen


2011-09-1 by Francine Leibman

Good to see you writing again, Becca.

2011-09-2 by Mudge

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