An Interview with the APA President: Angela D. Brooks, FAICP


Throughout a time of utmost housing affordability challenges across the nation, the American Planning Affiliation (APA) is underneath management from an expert devoted to delivering housing options. Within the capability of her day job, present APA President Angela D. Brooks is the director of director of the Illinois Program on the Company for Supportive Housing, a program with a observe file of delivering top quality, mixed-use reasonably priced housing tasks. Brooks has introduced that focus to her tenure as APA president as nicely, launching the APA’s Housing Provide Accelerator in January 2023 and co-authoring the APA’s “Housing Coverage Information,” revealed in 2019 throughout Brooks’s time because the AICP co-chair.

Planetizen is happy to current the next interview, carried out with Brooks in 2022, flippantly edited for readability, and revealed within the entrance matter of the seventh Version of the Planetizen Information to Graduate City Planning Applications. The interview spans a profession devoted to housing, with classes for management for the youthful generations that may proceed the work of guaranteeing high quality, reasonably priced housing for all Individuals.

How do you describe your present skilled work? What group do you’re employed for and what are your targets as an expert proper now?

A close up photo of Angela D. Brooks in business atire.I’m the director of the Illinois workplace for the Company for Supportive Housing (CSH). We’re a nationwide nonprofit that gives options for everlasting supportive housing. Our workplace does the Illinois Supportive Housing Institute, a four-month program of ten periods instructing builders learn how to develop everlasting supportive housing. Shelters and emergency housing aren’t our area of interest—we work for everlasting housing, so that you personal your house. You’re going to have a lease in your identify; you’ll have your individual utilities.

Proper now, we do lots of contracts with state authorities entities to do work that they won’t have capability to do. Put up-Covid, and with the nice resignation, there are lots of authorities companies that aren’t in a position to rent to satisfy some roles which can be a lot wanted, similar to guaranteeing persons are getting housed. One of many issues I like about CSH is that from day after day, and workplace to workplace, the work may be totally different, however on the finish of the day, we do something that falls underneath the everlasting supportive housing area of interest. Right here in Chicago, 80% of the folks which can be homeless, or unhoused, are African American. Solely 20% of the town is African-American. So I’m learn how to begin eradicating systemic boundaries to housing.

Lots of the present housing coverage dialogue revolves round zoning reform. The place does your method to everlasting supportive housing, particularly centered on social justice and fairness, match into the bigger scope of housing coverage in the USA?

I’ve truly been pondering lots about that as a result of the APA (American Planning Affiliation) is doing lots about zoning reform. This could be one of many first occasions there’s a direct correlation within the housing coverage work I do, as a “houser,” and the extra core planning talent set I educated for. Zoning might be the most important contributor to why so many individuals want housing. Zoning began as a racist instrument to advertise segregation. In lots of areas, like my native Seattle, lack of density and lack of land drove up prices.

At CSH, we’re doing a useful resource information for planners on learn how to higher help everlasting supportive housing in communities. NIMBYism is actual, and we see it most likely extra visibly with the encampments and clearing of homeless encampments, however when folks hear about everlasting supportive housing developments going up subsequent door, you’re going to get lots of pushback. We nonetheless have folks pushing again towards market-rate residences. There are rural areas which have unhoused points as nicely that aren’t doing their justifiable share. I hate utilizing the time period NIMBY (Not In My Yard), nevertheless it’s actual. How will we help folks? How do we alter the picture of who must be housed and what that appears like? There’s a notion of who’s homeless, and I most likely had a few of it myself once I began this work. However there’s a large breadth of individuals, and I feel Covid has demonstrated to lots of us that lots of people are actually two paychecks away from being unhoused.

With that stated, in all communities, from the best revenue to an absence of revenue, each human being deserves a good, secure, reasonably priced place to stay. That’s sort of the mannequin of my life and my life work—the range of what that appears like and the way we are able to all stay collectively. That’s sort of the work that I need to do. And hopefully the work that we’re doing at CSH will actually present options for a large breadth of oldsters.

How is the housing market totally different in Chicago than perhaps it’s in a number of the locations that type of dominate the dialog, like San Francisco or Los Angeles or New York?

I stay on the South Aspect of Chicago, the place on any given day, I can go searching and see acres and yards and toes of vacant land. Once I go dwelling to Seattle, I don’t see that. By way of entry to land within the metropolis, there’s simply lots of land that may be developed that’s simply not being developed. It provides us the chance right here to have a look at learn how to change zoning and do complete planning that helps the extent of density that may help extra housing choices. That isn’t essentially the case in areas on the West Coast and New York.

A large, multi-story building, newly constructed, pictured in the sublight.
508 Pershing, developed by the Group Builders throughout Brooks’s time on the Chicago Housing Authority, introduced a 53-unit mixed-income, mixed-use growth to Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood in 2022. (Picture courtesy of the Group Builders)

The rationale we’ve a lot vacant land is simply unhealthy coverage choices many years in the past which have left a story of two Chicagos: the South Aspect and the West Aspect look exceptionally totally different than the North Aspect. Town of Chicago has the Make investments Southwest program, which seems to be at a number of the systemic boundaries in financing which were contributing to the variations between these areas.

In the event you’re poor, it’s laborious to stay wherever, however for those who’re a middle-income particular person, Chicago remains to be comparatively obtainable. That’s altering shortly, definitely.

As of January 1, 2023, you’re the president of the American Planning Affiliation (APA). What’s the mutual advantage of this group to the occupation?

As a member, I personally have benefited from APA from extra of a scholar perspective—in getting mentors. As an rising skilled, notably once I was residing in Seattle, the place there’s not lots of range, I used to be in a position to get a extra numerous community of individuals within the area. I haven’t all the time learn Planning journal or the PAS (Planning Advisory Companies) stories, however as I received extra senior in my roles, these are very, very useful. The coverage guides definitely have been useful. The “Zoning for Fairness” information that simply got here out for remark shall be a really useful gizmo for planners generally. The function of an expert group, in my perspective (and ask me in a yr; after I’ve been president for a yr, this may change), ought to be supporting the members the place they’re at. The laborious half is we’ve received every thing from folks simply beginning to folks simply retired, so we’re working to fulfill folks the place they’re and supply sources and help.

I’m actually excited in regards to the advocacy work APA is beginning to do, being very intentional and getting folks concerned, not simply on the state and native stage, however on the federal stage. We’re getting folks to assume past the partisan stuff to core points that, I feel all people can agree, planning impacts.

Once I see a undertaking in Planning journal or different tasks which were profitable or show the priorities of the group, it’s been actually useful to drag these examples, notably now that a part of my job is speaking to politicians and lobbying round everlasting supportive housing.

What are the teachings that you just realized at graduate faculty in New Orleans that you just’ve saved with you? Had been there classes that you just weren’t in a position to study till you have been an expert?

I’ve been out of graduate faculty since 1999, so it’s been some time. For my first job out of planning faculty, I interned with the Federal Residence Mortgage Financial institution of Seattle. They’d a brownfield lending undertaking, which is what I did my ultimate undertaking on. In order that was sort of cool, as a result of I realized the finance piece on the job. I inform each scholar: don’t stroll out of faculty with out understanding finance. Discover ways to do an actual property professional forma, even for those who don’t need to be an actual property developer. While you’re a conventional planner, any person will include an actual property deal, and also you’re going to want to know their numbers to see in the event that they’re mendacity to you if you’re telling them what they should implement of their plans. You’re nonetheless going to must study some on the job, however you’ll be able to go away faculty and perceive precisely what it’s good to know to have an effect.

I realized one other lesson on my second job, allowing cell towers. This could have been in 2000, when no person wished cell towers (they most likely don’t need cell towers now, however they notably didn’t need them then). I left faculty ready to be on the receiving finish of a allow, not the submitting finish. So I needed to learn to conduct a neighborhood assembly, notably one if you’re constructing one thing with sturdy opposition. I knew the construction of these conferences, however I wasn’t essentially ready for the precise presentation of concepts. I walked out of faculty most in a position to perceive web site plans, for positive.

I’m glad to see extra college students doing internships. I used to be working and going to highschool, so I didn’t have the chance to try this. Increasingly more planning packages have actual world practicums and capstones— we didn’t have that 20-some-odd years in the past.

Residing in New Orleans, I received to study lots about historic preservation, which I wouldn’t have realized in Seattle as a result of Seattle is fairly new. I walked away with probably the most data of, and most appreciation for, preservation, which has turn out to be useful residing in Chicago and dealing in my earlier function on the Housing Authority, engaged on websites that weren’t on the registry, however have been very nicely on their means.

What have you ever realized in regards to the variations between the general public, non-public, and nonprofit sectors? What are the variations within the work, but additionally within the motivation or the abilities required of these totally different sorts of jobs?

Once I was doing allowing for cell towers, one factor I used to be grateful for was the AICP Code of Ethics, as a result of I might pull that out for help. The majority of my profession has been in numerous authorities entities, and endurance is the one factor I needed to study. I additionally needed to study that even when I’m the professional, I’m not the professional. So, I needed to learn to cope with native politicians and persuade them that my professional concepts have been theirs. Working with politics and with residents I needed to learn to work with folks and construct consensus. Some issues are inevitably going to occur. I method every thing very immediately: like “you might not like this however let’s be trustworthy: that is going to occur, so what can we do to make it one thing you would stay with?” Studying learn how to negotiate and never come off as an entire jerk is essential. In some cases, I’m studying learn how to work with politicians and persuade them of issues I consider are essential that may not essentially be what they consider.

I’m actually studying about neighborhood engagement and getting folks whose voices aren’t normally heard within the room. I don’t assume anyone has an answer for that.

Is there anything you’d wish to share with potential college students in planning?

The factor that’s led me greatest in my profession is to be actually, actually versatile. It’s useful to create a kind of cool little charts and plans of what your life could also be, however as you progress in your in your profession, and also you meet folks and also you begin getting your toes moist, alternatives may come up that trigger you to maneuver to an space you don’t assume you need to work in. However you actually need to roll with the punches and be versatile on the place the journey can take you. As a result of on the finish of the day, you get some nice expertise and even when you end up not notably caring for what you’re engaged on, it’s expertise that builds to one thing else.

I typically say I’m sort of a grasp of all of all trades, or a jack of all trades, grasp of none, however, I really feel like all of my random experiences led to a reasonably nicely knowledgeable skilled. If I had simply caught to the concept of being a planning director, I don’t know the place I’d be—I’d have been nonetheless sitting someplace too scared to maneuver or scared to do one thing else. So don’t be scared and actually lean in.

The benefit of planning is we’re so interdisciplinary. If there’s one thing you’re obsessed with, you’ll be able to most likely discover a associated job that makes an actual distinction. Once I was allowing for cell towers, it wasn’t probably the most associated to what I wished to do, so I spent lots of my time engaged on nonprofit boards and different neighborhood help organizations that wanted a planning skillset. There’s all the time a solution to sort of construct your resume each for pay and by volunteer work.

Brooks is the primary Black feminine to be elected president of APA. She’s going to serve two years as president, main the 16-member APA Board of Administrators in governing the affiliation, setting strategic targets, and elevating the significance of planning throughout the U.S. It is a volunteer place. Learn extra about Brooks on the APA’s web site.


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