“There was no way I was going to buy a flat-roofed house,” said Sean LeBeouf, a police officer who lives with his wife in a Make It Right house, which has a slanted roof. “In Louisiana, that’s just ridiculous. Look around, and there are no flat-roofed houses because of how much rain we get.”
Constance Fowler, a Make It Right homeowner and local activist, has counted 18 homes with flat roofs that Make It Right later redid to add a slant. The organization has also replaced rotting decks on at least 36 of the 109 homes since 2008, according to a lawsuit Make It Right filed against a lumber manufacturer. Make It Right chose TimberSIL because it advertised sustainable wood that was not treated with chemicals, but the lumber rotted in the Louisiana climate, according to the suit.
Brittany West lived in one of the flat-roof houses — a buttermilk-yellow rectangle hugged by a front porch.
She moved in in 2011 with her husband and three daughters, and after one of the first rainfalls, she said she noticed water pouring in under the door. Make It Right fixed the leak, she said, but water kept seeping into the walls whenever it rained. By 2012, West said she was getting near-constant migraines, which she now attributes to mold.
Over the next three years, West said she called Make It Right every few months to complain. Each time, Make It Right employees came to take pictures of the damage and took notes, she said, only to leave the organization before following through.
“Someone’s not telling me what’s wrong and I have small children,” West said she remembers thinking.
Worried for her family’s health, West left the home in 2015 and moved in with her sister in Georgia, where she said her migraines stopped.
In June, as neighbors’ complaints and building code violations piled up, the home was demolished. On the demolition permit application, under the reason the property was being demolished, the contractor hired by Make It Right wrote, “Blighted property.”
Reginald Moliere, West’s uncle and the home’s owner, said Make It Right told him it intends to rebuild.
“Eventually they said they’re going to scrap it and start over,” he said, “but they didn’t give me a date or timeline.”
‘A SKELETON CREW’
By 2016, as homeowner concerns piled up, Darden quietly left as Make It Right’s CEO, and the staff was slashed to six — including two lawyers, according to former employees and the website’s staff page. Last year, Make It Right closed its headquarters in downtown New Orleans and moved into a trailer in the Lower 9th Ward, residents said. The current chief operating officer and only executive, James Mazzuto, joined the organization as an intern in 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile and a previous version of the Make It Right site.
“They used to have dozens of people, but for the last two-and-a-half years it’s been a skeleton crew that you can’t even get hold of,” said Thomas Pepper, executive director of Common Ground Relief, a group of locals who organized to help with rescues and eventually rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina and worked alongside Make It Right. “They don’t answer phone calls. They don’t answer emails. It’s crazy.”
One of the remaining people working with Make It Right is John C. Williams, the organization’s executive architect, who turned the original house designs into blueprints.
Building houses isn’t easy in the Lower 9th Ward, Williams told NBC News, citing rain, moisture, and a lack of bedrock as particular challenges. “We’re basically on Jell-O,” Williams said.
Williams, who is not on the staff at Make It Right and does not work for the organization full-time, said homeowners were partly to blame for the problems with the houses, because they did not always notify Make It Right immediately about the need for repairs. “Maybe the occupants weren’t aware so they didn’t bring it up,” Williams said, since mold is not always visible. Others, he said, made quick fixes like putting pots under leaky ceilings, increasing the damage.