As the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina nears, you’d think that the Make It Right Foundation, a green rebuilding effort borne from the waterlogged rubble of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, would do something big, something splashy, something audacious to mark the occasion. After all, this is a Hollywood-championed nonprofit co-founded by designer William McDonough and chicken-advocating vintner Brad Pitt that's best known for recruiting a star-studded team of international architects (Frank Gehry, Shigeru Ban, et al.) to design affordable, storm-resistant and decidedly avant-garde abodes for those displaced by Katrina’s fury.
Instead, Make It Right is scaling back and, well, thinking small.
Despite the criticism and high-profile setbacks that have beset Make It Right during its mission to build 150 Cradle to Cradle-inspired homes in the Lower 9th Ward (to date, a total of 109 single- and multi-family residences have been completed at a cost of $26.8 million since the charity launched in 2007), the do-gooding organization has kept at it at a mostly steady pace while embracing emerging green housing trends. And as evidenced by Make It Right’s newest NOLA project, those trends now include the tiny house movement.
Partnering with FYI’s “Tiny House Nation,” a scintillating reality show about micro-home enthusiasts and those who love them, Make It Right is hustling to finish up work on a new home that, despite its limited square footage, boasts plenty of green appeal.
At 496 square feet (palatial compared to tiny houses of the mobile variety), the two-story abode manages to pack in an array of eco-friendly bells and whistles into its dainty footprint: there’s solar panels on the roof (natch), recycled countertops, Energy Star appliances, LED lighting, sustainable flooring and much more. Basically, all the same features as the larger homes but miniaturized.
And like the more spacious brethren in the neighborhood, the Make It Right tiny house is eyeing LEED Platinum certification.
Unlike other Make It Right homes, however, construction costs for this particular dwelling are expected to ring in at under $100,000.
According to the Times-Picayune, the bill will be partially footed A+E Networks-owned FYI, which will feature the home, in all of its compact stilted glory, in an upcoming episode of “Tiny House Nation.”
Jordan Pollard, Make It Right’s research, design and development director who initiated the nonprofit’s maiden foray into tiny house construction and spearheaded the home’s design, explains to the Times-Picayune why the organization has now decided to think small: "Ever since the housing crisis, there's been a growth in people looking to downsize, to take on less. It's the less-is-more concept.” Pollard, a New Orleans native, adds: “To be able to own a brand new home for under $100,000 is pretty rare. That's a pretty attractive monthly mortgage note. It's in conflict with the McMansion mentality, but it makes sense. People are tired of taking care of a lot of stuff.”
The home itself, featuring a lofted bedroom, study/work nook, laundry area, and a full kitchen and bathroom, is located at 1732 Forstall Street. Once completed, a local middle school teacher will move in.
But before he or she does, on Aug. 28, Make It Right and FYI will host a “Tiny House-Warming” ceremony followed by public tours of the house. The following day, the home will serve as a “recharge hub” for Make It Right’s "A Call for Volunteers." Essentially a morning of public service, the volunteer opportunity is being held in conjunction with Katrina 10, a city-wide initiative “celebrating New Orleans’ progress and creating a vision for its future.” Later that day, Make It Right will host a concert by Solange Knowles at the House of Blues.
In total, Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 5,300 homes in the Lower 9th Ward, a neighborhood that currently maintains 36.7 percent of its pre-storm population but is slowly growing back. A majority of the homes built by Make It Right are populated by residents who lived in the Lower 9th Ward prior to the storm and have decided to return. A significant number of those living in the homes are senior citizens, first responders, locals educators and/or first-time homeowners.
As for Pitt, it’s unclear if the actor and part-time NOLA resident will make a surprise appearance at the tiny house festivities on the 28th and 29th.
He did, however, speak to the Times-Picayune about the impact Make It Right has made on the Lower 9th Ward, an area once defined by destruction and despair that’s now a bona fide New Orleans tourist attraction due to the futuristic, high-performance homes designed by a roster of acclaimed architects: "I'll tell you, every time I drive over the Claiborne bridge, no matter what frustration I might be dealing with at the moment, I get this well of pride when I see this little oasis of color and the solar panels.”
He adds: “I drive into the neighborhood and I see people on their porch and I ask them how is their house treating them? And they say, 'Good.' And I say what's your utility bill? And they'll throw something out like, '24 bucks' or something, and I feel fantastic. It's a reminder of why we're there. It's a reminder of why we push like we push. It makes it all worthwhile."