Alumni Voices: Bithia Ratnasamy
Can you describe your career trajectory?
My career has been grounded by my values of equity, justice, and compassion. While studying at CAP, I envisioned myself in the non-profit community development world, but was fortunate to learn about the role that government can play in advancing equity through public sector housing and community development programs and policies while completing an internship with Focused Community Strategies, an organization in Historic South Atlanta. After graduating from CAP in December 2012, I moved to Arizona to serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA with the City of Phoenix Department of Planning and Development. In this role, I focused on increasing meaningful engagement opportunities for residents who had not previously been centered in community planning processes - communities of color (including immigrant and refugee families), youth, and seniors. Through this work, I gained a deeper understanding of the intersections between policy, process, and politics and eagerly accepted a role in the Phoenix City Council District 5 Office. As a council staffer, I researched/advised on planning-related policy issues, fostered community partnerships to strengthen the quality of life in the district, and worked to increase resident access to City services.
During graduate school, I completed a community engagement fellowship with Atlanta BeltLine, Inc., a quasi-governmental organization leading the planning and implementation of the BeltLine, one of the country's largest planning and re-development projects centered around a 22-mile multi-use trail. After completing my master’s degree in planning, I returned to Atlanta to work for the Deputy Commissioner of Housing at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs where I worked on state and federal policy, internal coordination strategies, and community engagement and external communication initiatives. I returned to local government in the summer of 2019 to work for the City of Atlanta's first Chief Housing Officer within the Office of the Mayor. Since the beginning of 2021, I have been serving as the Director of Housing at the Atlanta Housing Authority.
What does your current job entail?
Ensuring that residents can afford safe, quality homes is absolutely essential to building more inclusive cities. As Director of Housing, I lead the implementation and performance management of the One Atlanta: Housing Affordability Action Plan, an inter-agency housing strategy developed by the Mayor's Office, Department of City Planning, Atlanta Housing Authority, Invest Atlanta (economic development authority), Metro Atlanta Land Bank Authority, and Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. that includes actions ranging from advancing equitable zoning policies to increasing access to homeownership. Additionally, I work on special initiatives with my colleagues who are focused on policy, real estate, and communications. In this role, my priorities are centering racial equity in policy decisions, building a culture of collaboration amongst our inter-agency team, and increasing accountability through transparent reporting.
Please tell us about a favorite project and why it makes you proud.
While working in the Mayor's Office, I managed the Atlanta Housing Affordability Tracker, an interactive dashboard that shows exactly where the City and its sister agencies have invested in affordable housing since January 2018. While I may not have called it my favorite project at the time, in retrospect, I am grateful for the ways it helped me develop new hard skills (dashboarding with Power BI and managing a database in Excel with numerous contributors) and strengthen soft skills (managing an inter-agency team and communicating challenges to my manager). Beyond that, I am proud that we have been able to publicly report on the impact/stewardship of the housing agencies with a high level of confidence on a quarterly basis for the first time in the City's history. Additionally, I have been able to use the tracker as a tool to spur conversations around equitable investment, gentrification, and segregation.
What advice do you have for students who want a career similar to yours?
Be kind (to yourself and others), genuine, humble, and brave.
Do you have a favorite Ball State or CAP memory to share?
I'll never forget a walk that a group of us took with former Professor Francis Parker during a field trip to Boston. Though we had places to be, we ended up stopping spontaneously to hear a man playing a hurdy gurdy in the heart of Boston Common. While there's so much to learn about cities and systems, it was an unexpected lesson in pausing to appreciate the joy and beauty found in the unexpected moments of urban life.