Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” campaign to build 150 eco-friendly housing units in New Orleans’ devastated Lower 9th Ward gained momentum this week with actors Will Ferrell and David Spade joining thousands of Americans who have contributed to the cause.
“It’s been fantastic,” the activist actor told TODAY’s Ann Curry on Friday. “We’ve had 12,000 people across America come in and donate. We’ve had people like Will Ferrell come in and adopt a house. Our initial goal was 150 houses, and we’ve got 52 houses that have been adopted, which means 52 families.”
Among the donations, he said, was an anonymous gift of $1 million that arrived on Thursday.
Pitt spoke from the 9th Ward, sitting in a vacant tract that has been transformed into a representative art exhibit. Housing forms — roofs, rooms, walls — covered in bright pink fabric represent the affordable housing Pitt’s foundation intends to build to replace homes destroyed two years ago by Hurricane Katrina.
“It’s working. It’s really working,” he said. “It’s that thing we talked about of people coming together and people helping people, and that’s where America’s great.”
The fundraising campaign will end next month. “We got two more weeks to go,” Pitt said. “I need people out there to come in and adopt the other 100 homes. And hopefully by that time we’ll see this whole neighborhood symbolically put back together.”
The city’s population is just 60 percent of what it was before the hurricane, and delays in reconstruction have created a volatile political atmosphere. On Thursday night, emotions boiled over when the city council met to approve the demolition of 4,500 public housing units that were heavily damaged by the storm and have remained largely vacant ever since.
The city plans to redevelop the area slated for demolition, but protestors want the units rehabilitated instead. The protestors attempted to break into the council meeting and were beaten back by police.
“It speaks to how sensitive the housing issue down here is,” Pitt said of the melee. “It’s an open wound. It’s been sitting in limbo for two years. It’s no surprise it’s reached the boiling point ... That’s what going on down here. These families are very, very frustrated.”
Pitt and his partner, actress Angelina Jolie, have purchased a house in the city’s French Quarter and made New Orleans their home. Earlier this year, Pitt co-sponsored another redevelopment project with Global Green, an organization that promotes eco-friendly housing around the world.
“If this plan works, we’re going to have people moving in here by the end of summer,” he told Curry. “You can help donate at any level at makeitrightnola.org. We’d love to have you.”
Pitt turned 44 this week, and Jolie gave him a $100,000 custom motorcycle as a birthday present. The couple plan to celebrate Christmas in New Orleans along with their four children — Maddox, 6, Pax, 4, Zahara, who turns 3 next month, and Shiloh, 19 months. The eldest three children are adopted, and Pitt and Jolie have said that they intend to adopt several more.
Asked about his Christmas plans, he said, “I’m looking forward to it. Our son Pax is four, and this will be his first Christmas. I don’t think they had much of a Christmas in the orphanage, and our daughter’s turning three and should have good memories from this Christmas, so it’s a special Christmas for us.”
Did he have any special wishes?
“I’m hoping the paparazzi don’t show up,” he joked.