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Brad Pitt’s Foundation Plans a Project in Montana

The actor’s Make It Right foundation will build 20 solar-powered houses at the Fort Peck reservation to help ease chronic overcrowding

Posted on Jul 15 2014 by Scott Gibson

Brad Pitt's Make It Right foundation will try to make a dent this year in a housing shortage at Fort Peck, a 2-million-acre Native American reservation in Montana where housing is in such short supply that some families sleep in shifts.

The actor's foundation, which got its start constructing 150 houses in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina clobbered the city's Lower Ninth Ward, will start on 20 LEEDLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. -Platinum homes later this year. The foundation also helped fund projects in Newark and Kansas City.

The new houses at Fort Peck will have three or four bedrooms and two or three bathrooms. They will be rented to tribal members whose incomes are at or below 60% of the median income in the area, according to the foundation's announcement. Ownership will transfer to the tenants after 15 years.

The project was launched last year with design meetings between architects and members of the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes at Fort Peck, located in Poplar, Montana. Foundation spokeswoman Taylor Royle described the sessions, and the situation at Fort Peck, in in a series of blogs last year.

"Hundreds of people are on a waiting list for the poor quality homes that exist," Royle wrote. "We hear stories from people who have nine families living in a five-bedroom home and take 'sleeping shifts' to share the limited beds."

The reservation, described by The Washington Post as a bleak backwater in an article last year, has an unemployment rate of more than 50% and widespread drug and alcohol problems.

The houses will be solar-powered

There will be five house designs in all. Although Royle didn't have a lot of specifics about the buildings, Make It Right aims for the "highest standards in green buildings" that reflect "Cradle to CradleTerm used to describe the recycling of waste materials and manufactured products into new products rather than permanently disposing of them (see cradle to grave). The concept and its societal implications was the focus of the 2002 book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by chemist Michael Braungart and architect William McDonough. " objectives.

Among features typically found in Make It Right houses are advanced framingHouse-framing techniques in which lumber use is optimized, saving material and improving the energy performance of the building envelope. to minimize the use of wood and allow more insulation, interior finishes with reduced volatile organic compounds, indigenous landscaping adapted to the environment, and photovoltaic(PV) Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. panels.

Royle said the Fort Peck homes would be "solar powered," but it wasn't clear whether that meant they would be net-zero energyProducing as much energy on an annual basis as one consumes on site, usually with renewable energy sources such as photovoltaics or small-scale wind turbines. designs. Insulation and mechanical systems, she said, would depend on the particular house. Some will be stick-built and others will be modular.

A number of companies are donating building materials, including Shaw Floors, Cosentino (quartz surfaces), Benjamin Moore, Unico (small-duct heating and air conditioning), and Leviton (electrical devices).

Architects and designers represented GRAFT, Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative, Architecture for Humanity, Method Homes and Living homes.

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Image Credits:

  1. GRAFT via Make It Right
  2. Sustainable Native Communities Collaborative
  3. Living Homes

Jul 16, 2014 10:08 AM ET

9 kids in a 5 bedroom home?
by Robert Connor

I guess it figures that Brad Pitt is building these because he has a big family, but why not build a Planned Parenthood center too? And give everyone who lives there a lifetime supply of birth control!

Jul 16, 2014 3:07 PM ET

The housing problem isn't about birth rates.
by Dana Dorsett

Housing issues on the Fort Peck res the increase in population over the past decade has been as much about houseing cost increases due the influx of people to the region to work the Bakken Shale oil & gas fields as it has been about on-res birth rates. The total population of the Fort Peck res DROPPED about 10% between 2000 and 2010 (that's like losing 30 million people, if applied to the US as a whole), though the native population increased by about 5% during the same period.

High teenage unemployment among the native population is an issue pushing unintended birth rates, but if you think opening a Planned Parenthood office (serving a population of fewer than 1500 women of child bearing age) is going to make a material difference on that you probably haven't spent much time on reservations. I know someone who has worked as a midwife on the Pine Ridge res for the past 25 years or so- it can be pretty tough, and a clinic & free birth control would do nothing (except add 2, maybe 3 jobs, which is something.) Teenage suicides, infant mortality, & deaths from alcohol & drug related causes keep up with the birth rates all too well on the poorer reservations.

Fort Peck may be (barely) richer than Pine Ridge (the poorest county in the US), but it's poverty rate is around 50% , and teenage unemployment (meaning no job, no school, no future) is ridiculously high, as well as in the 20-something population. Any economic development plan (including building needed housing) giving the most-fertile population something better and more hopeful to do with their time will cut birth rates faster & deeper than the eugenics-clinic prescription offered by Robert Conner.

More fun facts about Fort Peck to ponder.

Jul 18, 2014 6:04 AM ET

Edited Jul 18, 2014 6:14 AM ET.

Response to Dana
by Robert Connor

Well, I guess you love people so much to be around a lot of them, but really, why not add a clinic to the project, it could be just an extra one of the houses. Why is Brad Pitt Making it Wrong rebuilding flooded parts of New Orleans? They are just going to be flooded again. An please spell my last name with an or. After all, I don't write your name as Danah.

Jul 18, 2014 6:28 AM ET

Response to Robert Connor
by Martin Holladay

I don't know if it is relevant to a discussion of an effort to improve housing options, but, for what it is worth, the Fort Peck Tribes have an extensive health promotion and disease prevention Wellness Program. The program includes School-Based Health Centers, Medical Health Care, Mental Health Care, and Oral Health Care.

For more information, see Fort Peck Tribes HP/DP Wellness Program.

Jul 18, 2014 3:31 PM ET

It's curious that...
by Dana Dorsett

... Robert Connor (with an "..or"- didn't mean to imply he's a con-artist :-) ) will prescribe solutions for people and situations without bothering to research what's actually appropriate or needed. Family planning services on reservations generally already exist (I even know some who provide said services), but not necessarily as a separate clinic when dealing with such small populations. Like any small town, some services get consolidated, others you have to go to town for.

The Fort Peck rez has a miniscule population compared to most US counties, and they don't all live in town,. and there are fewer than 1500 females of child bearing age, maybe even fewer than 1000. That's fewer fertile females in the entire rez than can be found in many large urban high schools- do those schools all require a separate family planning clinic too? A large number of urban high schools offer some amount of contraceptive & related counseling services, as is likely the case at Fort Peck, but I'm not sure if it's a majority of schools, or if it's even needed for most that don't. The prevalence of middle & high school dropouts at Fort Peck is a serious social problem, but it's a dubious proposition that building a family planning clinic to augment the services that already exist there is really warranted.

There are plenty of foundation driven projects that might be criticized as counterproductive, or more in the interests of the foundation operators or others than the recipients of their services/goods, but this project doesn't appear to be that sort of project.

I've lived briefly (at separate times) on two Indian reservations, most of which are very sparsely populated. But it doesn't bother me " be around a lot of..." people either. (I've also lived briefly in a densely populated large Asian city, and currently reside in a smaller but kinda-dense US city.) It bothers me a bit when people who sort-of understand hammers begin to view all problems as nails. Family planning clinics are useful, but the solution to a very limited number of problems. They are very weak instruments indeed for addressing things like urban heat island effects, pollution, population & resource-footprint issues etc..

Narendra Modi making good on his campaign promise to bring solar power to the ~400 million citizens of India not currently served by the power grid will result in lowering the birth rates and increasing the prosperity of those populations in a much more direct & effective way than pushing greater access to family planning services ever could. (And at 1.25 billion & counting, with a middle class population that arlready exceeds the US population, that matters far more than anything one might do regarding birth rates anywhere in the US.)

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