Angela D. Brooks, FAICP, REAP ‘09, the newly elected president of the American Planning Association, never launched a campaign to head the world’s largest planning organization. She says, “Being president wasn’t even on my radar.”
A member “always” and a board member off and on since 2012, Brooks is the APA’s first Black woman president. She is also a FAICP, a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, a distinction granted only to those few who have met the criteria of excellence in leadership throughout their careers. Though she agreed to put her name on the APA ballot on the urging of colleagues who said she’d be ‘a perfect fit,’ when she was told that she’d won, Brooks thought it was a prank.
“I simply couldn’t believe it,” she says. She has now completed a year as president-elect and will serve as president through 2024. In addition to this enormous role, she is the Illinois program director for the Corporation for Supportive Housing where she has led and continues to enact initiatives to protect and prioritize the most vulnerable populations.
The successful APA election was a natural outgrowth of a life dedicated to seeking fair and equitable housing for all.
“Every human being deserves a safe and affordable place to live. That is the core principle, the backbone of everything I do,” says Brooks, adding, “Planning and real estate are essentially the same.”
Though friends and family expected her to choose a path geared to law, Brooks has always been “fascinated by cities” and committed to serving the community. Throughout her teens, she volunteered in multiple capacities including work at homeless shelters.
She received a B.A. in urban studies with a minor in housing and community development from Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. Brooks chose the HBCU because, after being one of the very few Black people in her school in Seattle through elementary school, she knew she “had to find a balance.”
Following graduate school at the University of New Orleans where she obtained a Master of Urban & Regional Planning with a focus on housing policy in 1999, she returned to Seattle to work for the Mayor’s Office in a job that required frequent interactions with building developers. In 2007, she moved to Chicago to become associate director of real estate for Heartland Housing. Soon after, she discovered Project REAP and enrolled in the organization’s first Chicago class.
“I needed to learn about the commercial aspect of real estate. If you have 40 acres left, you need to know how to attract the commercial side,” she explains.
Brooks has remained, as she says, “on the REAP train” for 14 years as an active and involved alum who finds the sense of community and support invaluable.
“Doing deals together, sharing information, networking – it all provides a wider pool of people to choose from. REAP is building communities of color in ways that can be game-changing.”
Partnerships between ‘minority’ (a term she uses guardedly) developers can lead to meaningful change in Black communities.
“As the minority becomes the majority, BIPOC professionals need to take more of a leadership role in the built environment,” says Brooks. She points to a recent partnership between Habitat for Humanity and Green Home Solutions and a Black developer, a consequential move.
She hopes that her role with the APA will provide a forum for her to make inroads in various critical areas.
“It’s time to talk about zoning reform. Zoning started as a tool of racial segregation. Single-family housing is cost prohibitive and limits the supply of affordable housing.
“We’re in a housing crisis. It’s a perfect storm where we’re in a place of under-housing,” she says.
Under Brooks’ persuasive and diligent leadership, progress will be made.
A few years ago, she came across an intriguing GIF while scrolling the Internet. The words Thoughts & Prayers, written by hand, were crossed out and replaced with “Policy & Change” in bold black letters. She reposted the GIF which later became her profile picture.
“We need to be actionable. God gives us skills to be actionable.” Angela D. Brooks is clearly using her formidable skills wisely and well.
Manikka Bowman is the executive director of Project REAP.