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Growing up in a low-income, marginalized neighborhood in northern Virginia gave Monique Johnson, Ph.D., a front-row seat to the impact of economic disparities, social dislocation and limited supportive resources, both on the individual and on the community. It helped her see how an individual’s physical environment has a direct connection to the quality of life they experience. And it inspired her drive to provide better opportunities for people from underserved communities.

Johnson now serves families in neighborhoods similar to those she knew growing up, as managing director of community outreach at Virginia Housing, a new role she took in October. She previously served as vice president and chief operating officer of the Better Housing Coalition in Richmond, Virginia. The nonprofit is based on the fundamental conviction that access to housing is a springboard to success in education, employment and health, and it works to fulfill the vision that every citizen has good choices for where they live. As COO, Johnson oversaw $250 million in real estate assets across Central Virginia, supported service coordination for BHC residents and worked to improve the organization’s overall efficiency.

Johnson started her career in civil engineering, but she says it was VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, where she earned her Ph.D. in public administration, that showed her how she could help make a difference in the community through her work. “I really thought that I was a civil engineer with an M.B.A. and that my path was set. But VCU, the professors and the rigor of the coursework, really empowered me to embrace divergent ways of thinking and see the impact I could make in the world through a career in public service,” Johnson reflects.

Since earning her doctorate in 2014, she has been an adjunct professor of real estate in the VCU School of Business and in 2018 was inducted into the VCU School of Business Real Estate Circle of Excellence. She has also channeled her commitment to inclusion into a VCU task force to help improve hiring and retention rates of underrepresented minority faculty.

In 2020, Johnson’s expertise earned her seat on the state Board of Housing and Community Development. She has also been awarded the Marshall Memorial Fellowship through the German Marshall Fund and has been recognized by Style Weekly as a “Top 40 Under 40” subject and by Affordable Housing Finance Magazine as a “Young Leader in Affordable Housing.” She also serves on other statewide committees designed to strengthen community development infrastructure.

Of all her professional accomplishments, Johnson takes the most pride in being a mentor and advocate for women of color, particularly in commercial real estate. “There aren’t many women who operate in this space and even fewer women of color. As our country becomes more and more diverse, it’s critically important that those who are making decisions around how our built environment is developed reflect the diversity of those who are in the communities.”

Read this story and others in VCU Alumni Magazine

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