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Why Brad Pitt's Nonprofit Is Building Homes for Native American Tribes

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Make It Right launched in 2007 to rebuild homes in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Now the nonprofit founded by Brad Pitt has moved on to other communities in need—and its next project will be building sustainable homes for Native American tribes in Fort Peck, Montana.

At last weekend's Dwell on Design, Make It Right unveiled its newest collaboration with the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes. Later this year, Make It Right will build the first 20 homes on their reservation for members of the tribes who need housing. There are over 600 members of the tribes who are without homes.


Architecture for Humanity's Fort Peck home

Like the nonprofit's New Orleans work, the Fort Peck project solicits designs from multiple architects, and the homeowners get to choose which design they'd like. Architects from GRAFT, Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative, Architecture for Humanity, Method Homes and Living Homes worked closely with the tribes, meeting with leaders and learning about local traditions as they developed their home designs.


Design for Fort Peck by Method Homes

The homes will be rated LEED Platinum, the highest possible sustainability rating. They'll be solar-powered and use vendors selected by the Cradle-to-Cradle certification program for their attention to responsible and reclaimed materials. The homes will be available to lower-income residents who will buy the home after 15 years of renting through a special rent-to-own program. A small percentage of the housing will go to seniors and disabled veterans.

Design for Fort Peck by Living Homes

Although Make It Right has successfully built 100 homes for the Lower Ninth Ward, which are currently occupied by 350 hurricane victims, the nonprofit has not been without controversy. The architects were slammed for the contemporary (sometimes outright wacky) designs, with critics complaining that the new homes did not integrate well with the style of the century-old shotgun cottages which were originally found in the neighborhood.


The homes are also expensive to build, and other New Orleans relief groups demonstrated they were able to build many more units for the same amount of money. Plus, the celebrity-driven attention has turned the neighborhood into a tourist spectacle, with large air-conditioned buses rolling through an area that still lacks basic services.


Design by Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative

But there's something to be said about the nonprofit's approach and how it has evolved over the years. Partnering with Architecture for Humanity is a good move, as the global nonprofit has plenty of experience building homes for marginalized communities. But with the new Fort Peck project, Make It Right is moving away from starchitect-driven projects and is working with prefab developers like Method Homes and Living Homes, which know how to build sustainable housing affordably. The inclusion of the Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative is also smart, as it works directly with tribal designers who understand the local native cultures.


Make It Right is now successfully moving out from under the shadow of Brad Pitt's celebrity as well as its original focus on the Lower Ninth Ward's recovery, and it's doing so with some smart partners that will help create impact in new cities. And whether you think Pitt's star power was a positive element or not, it certainly helped to get the nonprofit off the ground, garnishing the attention and funding that has perpetuated the project and allowing it to address different issues across the country. Here's to hoping the nonprofit was be able to fix what might have been wrong in NOLA and "make it right" here in Montana. [Make It Right]

Top image: Design for Fort Peck by GRAFT