Member Spotlight: Angela Brooks, AICP

Interview by Deborah Myerson, AICP.  Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

I’ve always been fascinated with cities and how they developed. As an undergraduate, I majored in urban studies. When I was looking at the description of majors, that seemed cool. I continued that path in grad school with a master’s in urban and regional planning.

I’ve worked at a variety of jobs in housing in my career: a homeless shelter for youth in New Orleans, housing policy in the Mayor’s office in Seattle, affordable housing development in Chicago, and, for over a decade, the Chicago Housing Authority – the third largest public housing authority in the country.

Part of Chicago’s Plan for Transformation

I was a development manager for the Chicago Housing Authority during their Plan for Transformation, which involved demolishing some of the largest concentrations of public housing units and redeveloping the sites into mixed-income properties.  The Ida B Wells Homes, with 3100 public housing units on 110 acres, was one of the redevelopment sites. Part of the site was redeveloped and rebranded as Oakwood Shores, which is one-third public housing units, one-third affordable units, and one-third market rate. There’s also a homeownership component.

The project in my career that I am most proud of is the construction of the Altgeld Family Resource Center built in the Altgeld Gardens/Phillip Murray Homes neighborhood with about 3,400 residents in an isolated area on the far south side of Chicago. Financed with funding from U.S. Housing and Urban Development and New Markets Tax Credits, the $28 million, 40,000 square-foot Center provides an early childhood learning center, a Chicago Public Library branch, and a community center. This project is the final phase of the Chicago Housing Authority’s community master planning effort for the Altgeld/Murray community.

From Affordable Housing to Supportive Housing

Now, I am director of the Illinois office of CSH, a national organization supporting community-based supportive housing solutions and a CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution).

With CSH, I engage in systems change work and advocacy in housing and health policy, as well as manage loans for loans for acquisition and predevelopment for supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness and people with disabilities. Our work is also preventive, to prevent people from entering the system. The pandemic has exposed serious flaws in the system. So many people are one paycheck away from homelessness.

Yet, supportive housing is different than affordable housing. There’s a huge race equity initiative in Chicago for supportive housing. Eighty percent of people experiencing homelessness in the Chicago area are African American, much more than the population as a whole.

Our work is not just in Chicago: we are also building capacity for supportive housing statewide in places like Springfield and Cairo with the CSH Supportive Housing Institute.

What Housing Needs to Look Like

How do we address housing and community development in a system rooted in racial injustice?

Gentrification shouldn’t be a dirty word: displacement should be a dirty word.  Neighborhoods shouldn’t be affordable only because there’s nothing there.

In housing, planning has to be a focus. We need to invest in opportunities in EVERY neighborhood, rather than create just targeted opportunity areas that displace poor people.

This approach includes supporting culturally competent housing types and creating community spaces in buildings that reflect all of the people who live there.

At the Chicago Housing Authority, qualified tenants in public housing or with Section 8 vouchers can participate in a Choose to Own Homeownership program. They can put their housing subsidy toward mortgage payments.

It helps if we can be intentional in how we use publicly owned land. High land and materials costs don’t allow for a lot of affordable housing. Yet, subsidies are not growing. We need more

9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit allocations. It’s hard to do with 4% tax credits.

At the end of the day, housing costs keep going up, whether rent or the cost of buying a home.

Rising property taxes also price people out of their homes. We need to consider: how does public policy support peoples’ ability to age in place.

Finding Radical Self-Care

I participate a little in neighborhood planning, but it can be exhausting. It’s important to find radical self-care. I participate in a housing and community development book club. I highly recommend The Color of Law.

I’m an avid cyclist and an advocate with a statewide bike advocacy organization. Biking through communities, I’ve noticed a lot of things. I am also a kidney donor, and support advocacy around health disparities. Sometimes I drive around and notice kidney dialysis centers everywhere, just like liquor stores.

Find Your Niche

Start writing down everything you do professionally. Keep a diary. Women especially need to learn how to advocate. I’ve appreciated my time on the APA board. Now, I’m eligible for FAICP. I am always open and available, ready to reach out as a mentor and a sponsor.

I encourage student members to use the Housing and Community Development Division as a forum to engage in the space of housing and community development. The sky is the limit, and getting involved can create those opportunities. Find your niche and create a professional support network. Think about your next career choices and what kind of support you need.