About WP+D

a group of eight woman in business and cocktail attire stand together in a hallway; high rise buildings are behind them, with their lights on because it's dark outside

Women in Planning + Development (WP+D) is a professional development organization dedicated to advancing leadership, fostering relationships, and providing educational opportunities for women in the fields of planning and development.

Our Goals:
  • Offer services and programs to promote the professional advancement of our members and strengthen the fields of planning and development.
  • Foster meaningful connections among women in planning and development in the Chicago region.
  • Provide a forum to share knowledge, exchange ideas, and encourage dialogue on the advancement of women in the fields of planning and development.

We welcome feedback from our members and the general public. If you'd like to reach out, please email us at info@wpdchicago.com.

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 was most recently a  Program Associate in Property Preservation at Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Chicago’s Redevelopment Corporation. She assisted 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.

Fun Facts:

  • Can be described as a city living tree-hugger

  • Bucket List Item: Travel to Hobbiton & walk the path to Mordor 

  • Cursed and blessed with coffee know-how #FormerBaristaLife

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.

Prior to joining POAH, she worked for a tax credit equity investor underwriting large scale affordable housing transactions across the country. There she was responsible for reviewing due diligence items, evaluating local rental markets, and maintaining relationships with syndicator partners.  Additionally, Sasha gained valuable experience working for Related Management for over 6 years.  At Related, she managed large scale properties in various stages of construction through stabilization. While completing her coursework in graduate school, she also interned with HUD’s Community Planning and Development department,  where she gained valuable knowledge on federal housing policies affecting homeless, veteran and special needs populations.

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.   

Fun facts:  

  • Loves playing ultimate frisbee and disc golf. 

  • Loves arranging flowers and maintaining plants. 

  • Has a dog named Taco.

Alice Mwinzi - Treasurer

Alice Mwinzi is a Development Officer at The Michaels Organization where she develops multifamily affordable housing. Prior to joining The Michaels Organization, she worked as a Development Associate at Mercy Housing Lakefront assisting developers in the rehabilitation of the nonprofit’s SRO properties.

Alice achieved a Master of Public Administration degree at the University of Illinois at Chicago with a concentration in Local Government Management. Prior to obtaining her MPA, Alice graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with an emphasis in Public Administration and a minor in Environmental Studies.

Alice has a passion for solving the challenges that communities face in producing and preserving affordable housing.

Fun facts:

  • She loves to wake up at sunrise
  • She enjoys reality TV
  • She used to play the Viola as a kid

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.

Fun Facts:

  • US Army Veteran

  • Loves live music

  • Volunteers with the Southside youth to teach the art of Double Dutch

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 role as Owner of Em+H Chicago, LLC, she takes an integrated approach to building effective marketing and  communications strategies for clients working in transportation, infrastructure, tech, and higher education. 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 watching Law & Order (all of 'em).

Fun Facts:

  • Wrote a blog (Metro-Venture) where she documented her experiences in visiting all of the Metro stations and riding dozens of bus routes. This blog was featured on NPR and in the Washington Post.

  • Plays two percussion instruments: drums and piano.

  • Has three cats that are cumulatively 42 years old!

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. 

Fun facts:

  • She has 2 dogs named after musicians: Etta James and Ozzy Pawsbourne. Neither dog enjoys music.

  • She has climbed Half Dome twice.

  • Her favorite pandemic activity is watching movies in the backyard.

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!!

Fun facts:

  • Absolutely a hot-pot lover! More than willing to eat a hot-pot at an outdoor area in Chicago's summer.
  • Originated from Taiwan! No one can argue with me that we are the first country to produce bubble milk tea. (being serious and jk at the same time).
  • Currently wanting to be a plant lover without having green fingers. 

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.

Fun Facts:

  • She is truly intrigued by the differences in culture, languages, traditions, and music. She finds great joy in learning about other languages and cultures and being able to connect with people in different ways.
  • Loves to relax by listening to music (any genre).
  • Studied Arabic in college and would love to continue practicing.

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.

Fun Facts:

  • She is fond of Art Festivals in Chicago!
  • She finished Architecture Engineering undergrad.
  • She volunteers remotely as Art Mentor for “Path with Art” NGO in Seattle, WA!

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.

Fun facts:

  • Writing poetry
  • Singing
  • Being passionate about community organizing/preservation

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):

  • In her first career in the space industry, she collaborated directly with astronauts to design space hardware.
  • She double majored in engineering and art in undergrad.
  • She recently finished a suite of etchings which correspond to a poem by Nikki Giovanni - and she graciously autographed the artwork!
  • Her dog can fetch a newspaper!

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.

Fun Facts:

  • Ximena is a hiking aficionado
  • She loves kayaking
  • She seeks out and loves the Dolly Parton casino slots in Vegas

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.

Fun facts:

  • Watches some part of the Star Wars or Marvel Universe every day.
  • Could eat tacos for every meal, forever.
  • Would eventually like to bike some part of the Great Allegheny Passage.
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