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2021-2022 Board of Directors
We're excited to welcome several new members to the board for the upcoming year. Check back soon for the full list of Directors!
Haley Cannon - President
Haley Cannon is a Program Associate in Property Preservation at Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Chicago’s Redevelopment Corporation. She assists in NHS’s neighborhood revitalization efforts through vacant property stabilization and occupied property preservation by working closely with the city and other local community stakeholders in programs like the Troubled Building Initiative and the Micro Market Recovery Program.
Prior to starting with NHS, Haley obtained an MA in Sustainable Urban Development at DePaul University. During her academic career at DePaul, she worked with the Congress for the New Urbanism coordinating programs in urban planning and design, and then later worked with the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development organizing and moderating events in community development for the Chicagoland area.
Before coming to Chicago, Haley graduated in Environmental Studies from Central College in Pella, Iowa and then worked for a year at Green Iowa AmeriCorps in Des Moines, Iowa. During her time in Americorps, she worked with public and private partners and community organizations to develop and implement residential energy efficiency educational programs. Haley can be found with coffee in one hand and a map in the other, exploring a nature trail or strolling the city streets.
Sasha De La Cruz - Vice President
Sasha De La Cruz is a Project Manager with Preservation of Affordable Housing ('POAH") in the Chicago office. She works on all aspects of development, from initial acquisition through stabilization and conversion.
Sasha holds a Bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and a Master's degree in Urban Planning from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is originally from New York City but has made Chicago her second home.
She also serves on the board of the Barnard College regional alumni club and loves connecting with alumni and WPD members.
Lenese Clark - SEcretary
After completing her Masters of Public Administration from the University of Illinois Chicago, Lenese Clark (she/her) continued her passion for socioeconomic impact within higher education. In joining the Rustandy Center of Social Sector Innovation at the Chicago Booth School of Business, Lenese supports the center’s internal operations and strategic initiatives. In her 6+ years of experience in higher ed, she has worked with three well-renowned institutions, leading the development and implementation of operational procedures related to human resources, financial management, strategic planning, and administrative support.
She was referred to Women in Planning + Development due to her unwavering interest in creating more access to professional networks for women of color. In collaboration with the Board of Directors, Lenese strives to bring an operational approach to the needs of the secretary position for WP+D to promote efficiency and equity across the organization’s goals.
Em Hall - Marketing
Em Hall (she/her) brings over a decade of award-winning experience to her role as Marketing Chair for WP+D. In her day job as Communications Manager at Wight & Company, she takes an integrated approach to building a best-in-class communications strategy designed to elevate the brand and cultivate partnerships with industry influencers and the media. As a PhD student in Urban Planning at UIC, Em combines cutting-edge research with creative storytelling to convey her passion for building equitable spaces and places that are accessible to all.
Em also volunteers with WTS International’s Transportation YOU mentoring program, which introduces young women to careers in transportation. You can find her riding her bike around Pilsen or taking the Amtrak to destinations near and far.
Mackenzie Drosd - Membership
Mackenzie Drosd is excited to serve as the Membership Co-chair WP+D and is looking forward to connecting with colleagues across the many industries that make up the WP+D membership. Mackenzie serves as the Manager of Programs & Membership at the Illinois Housing Council, working to increase the affordable housing stock across the state.
Originally from San Francisco, CA, Mackenzie moved to Chicago in 2008 to attend college at Loyola University Chicago. She has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science with minors in Environmental Action and Leadership, and History. Mackenzie received her master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Yunni Tsai - Membership
Yunni Tsai is a recent UIC MUPP graduate and works as a development analyst in the affordable housing industry. She came from a suburb with scarce resources facing housing, education and daycare issues, but was fortunate enough to surround herself in a small community with sufficient caring/love from each other.
That being said, Yunni has always wanted to build her community and carry along all the kindness she received along the road. She is thrilled and also grateful to become part of the WP+D board this year. Please don't hesitate to reach out and discuss how we can build the community together!!
Jenny Calero - Professional Development
Jenny Calero is a project manager at Evergreen Real Estate Group, a company that focuses on developing affordable housing for families and senior households. Her role as an affordable housing developer includes all aspects of a project including seeking financing, design development, overseeing the construction phase, and assisting with turn over for property management. She has a Masters degree in Urban Planning and Policy from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).
This year Jenny is the Professional Development co-chair and is excited to dive in and network with other professionals in the area. She has previously been part in the creation of professional development activities and coordinating logistics of events/workshops for youth groups. Specifically, in 2015 she was a program coordinator for the Medicina Academy Apprentice Program at UIC. Similarly in 2017, she was a board member for a graduate student organization at UIC who created an urban planning curriculum as an extracurricular activity for high school students. She takes a lot of interest in event organizing and coordinating activities, especially if these are activities that will bring great benefit to others.
Maha Issa - Professional Development
Maha Issa is Urban Planning Professional with expertise in sustainable city planning, and academic research. Coordinating international exchange programs in multi-cultural communities. She serves as urban planner and member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee in Illinois Chapter of the American Planning Association where she supports policies for better resilient diverse communities. As a board member and urban planner in MIRA nonprofit organization in Chicago, she engages in community development for better settling of immigrants responding to the challenges of adapting to new life in Chicago.
Maha is originally from the Middle East and moved to Chicago in 2018. She finished a Fulbright Scholarship in Urban Studies from (MIT) MA with PhD in Urban Planning.In WP+D, she is excited to serve as Professional Development Co-Chair to shade more light on smart green approaches in planning for diverse communities. Encouraging the young generation in schools for better understanding of equitable urban planning through discussions, and professional activities.
Brittanii’ Batts - Programs
Brittanii’ serves as Associate Manager of Projects and Research at National Main Street Center. She is a liaison with potential awardees and potential borrowers. She implements grant reporting schedules, tracks loan repayments, and reviews loan applications and their processes. Working collaboratively with the team, Brittanii’ vets potential revitalization related projects and tracks improvement in loan agreements.
Working closely with the Vice President of Revitalization Programs, Brittanii’ is helping to expand NMSC’s research objectives using GIS data analysis and visualization. Prior to joining 2019, she worked in telecommunication development and served as a community organizer for traffic-infrastructure improvements projects on the West Side of Chicago. Brittanii’ has a background in environmental biology and urban planning, earning an M.A. in Urban Planning and Policy with a Geospatial Analysis and Visualization Certificate from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a B.S. in Integrative Biology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Rachel Groat - Programs
Rachel is pleased to serve her second term as Programs Co-Chair. Originally from the Chicago area, Rachel moved to Houston to attend Rice University. After graduating with degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Art she served in the aerospace industry as a project engineer. Later she returned to school, attending the University of Houston and earning a M.S. in Construction Management. While a graduate student, she joined the Houston Housing Working Group, advocating locally for affordable housing. Additionally, Rachel spent time as a volunteer child advocate for children in the foster care system.
Recently relocating back to her hometown of Chicago, Rachel is pleased to be a part of the Walsh construction team. She is now serving as the project engineer for a 70-unit, affordable housing building breaking ground this fall. At Walsh, she plans to continue advocating for affordable housing.
3 facts (okay 4):
Ximena Castro - Fundraising
Ximena Castro is a land use and zoning law associate attorney at Acosta Ezgur, LLC. Her practice centers on Zoning Board of Appeals cases and is known for her affordable housing community engagement in Pilsen. Her land use work includes large developments to single family homes and small businesses.
Ximena brings a judicial and administrative law background to her work as she externed for the Illinois Appellate Court First District, the Circuit Court of Cook County, and for the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards. Ximena graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s degree in Communication. She earned her J.D. from DePaul College of Law.
Traci Sanders - Fundraising
Traci Sanders is an urban planner with research interests in real estate and urban policy. She currently serves as Deputy Director of the Strategic Planning & Reporting (SPAR) department at the Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA). Over fifteen years she has cultivated cross-sector experience in Chicago and New York City, having worked in local government for Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the New York City Council; in academia for the NYU Furman Center; for not-for profits, including City Year Chicago and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law; and in the private sector for the land use practice at Kramer Levin, and most recently, as Director, Civic Impact, at the design practice, WXY architecture + urban design.
Throughout her career, Traci has been fortunate to be part of several notable projects across the country including the Downtown Davenport Master Plan (WXY), the East Harlem Neighborhood Plan (NYC Council), design and development of CoreData.nyc (NYU Furman Center), and LocalHousingSolutions.org (NYU Furman Center). These projects have deepened her understanding of the evolution of housing policy in the United States and the challenges faced by cities in addressing the growing affordability crisis. Specifically, her current work focuses on developing strategies that promote more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable communities, both environmentally and economically.
In September 2021, Traci began as an Adjunct Professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s College of Architecture co-teaching a 5 th -year Studio that focuses on design and policy issues raised at the intersection of race, gentrification, and historic preservation.
Traci holds an A.B. in Political Science from the University of Chicago, and a Master of Urban Planning from NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service.