The Denver city council president–turned–private developer advocates for density, affordability, and bringing everyone to the table.
Albus Brooks has worn many hats. He moved to Colorado from California to play college football, put down roots in Denver, and then became a minister, heading a nonprofit urban leadership group. Brooks went on to serve two terms on the city council, where he helped establish the city’s first affordable housing fund. Last year, he lost his seat in a primary (by fewer than 800 votes), and although he is often mentioned as a future mayoral candidate, he is now a vice president at Milender White, a construction and development company.
He spoke with us about how housing supply, smart policy, and getting the right people in a room can make cities more affordable—and more equitable.
Dwell: What do you consider your biggest accomplishments as a councilperson?
Brooks: In the midst of a lot of NIMBYism, we passed [in 2018] an incentive zoning overlay, which for the first time in Denver’s history included affordable housing in the code. We brought together community folks, architects, and developers to get it done. They all came up with: You can build higher if we get what we want as a community.
I have been that guy who’s been in every room, from the dealmaking room, to the government room, to the nonprofit room, to the gang members’ room, to the soccer moms’ room. I’m the guy who’s about bringing cities together. I think that’s the thread: How do you really create an inclusive city?
Dwell: How does that translate into your work with Milender White?
Brooks: Our deal is that 30 percent of our projects are focused on affordable housing and 70 percent are commercial. And we do high-end residential work, too, because I believe in supply and demand. I believe in the whole housing portfolio in a city.
Dwell: Which of your current projects do you think will have the greatest effect on affordability in the city?
Brooks: I’m really excited about what’s happening in the Five Points neighborhood in central Denver. It was called the Harlem of the West, but it was a redlined community, and the area has been vacant for 20 years. Now, Vista Equity Partners and a few other folks have been building property there to create a new urban neighborhood, which will include affordable housing and space for Black-owned businesses. We’ve been brought in to be a contractor and development partner.
Dwell: You’re also co-chair of the city’s Long Term Recovery Committee, established to contend with the fallout from Covid-19.
Brooks: Yes. When we started, we took something like 40 objectives and said, Let’s put an equity review on rebuilding our city. Every tactic goes through an equity review. Who benefits? Who doesn’t? And how do we close the gap?
I think those are some of the hard questions we have to ask about policy from zoning to contending with a pandemic. Then how often are we going to critique and analyze that specific policy? For me, you have to review it every 12-18 months. That’s hard to do in government. But the world and technology are changing so fast. As soon as we put great ideas into effect, they’re already antiquated. That’s something I didn’t really get until I got in the private sector.