So my parents immigrated from India in the 1960’s, and they eventually landed in Minnesota. And that’s where I was born and raised. I grew up in a cul-de-sac; I had a job at Orange Julius and I wanted a really different experience. I was very active in college. I started the Women of Color organization on my campus. I did a lot of work with other student groups. Then when I came to San Francisco, suddenly I had to get a job, I had to pay rent, and I had to feed myself. So I was like, “What job can I do?”
I started drafting and doing AutoCAD, and I soon realized…that I was drafting prisons. It was soul crushing. So I started volunteering for a place called Urban Ecology. And this organization basically worked with various communities, low-income communities of color across the Bay Area on community design projects. And that’s what spoke to me. And so I was driven by finally being able to be part of the solution and not the problem. It set the course for my career and I knew it, and I just put everything I had into that job.
So we had a group of community members come to Urban Ecology and said, “We just don’t think this makes sense for the community. What else can we do on 13 acres of land?” So we started community meetings. And what I came to realize is the tension that a lot of the community felt. They want a thriving neighborhood, they want a main street, they want a grocery store, they want a library. And that’s really when that proposal was defeated. There was a new vision. There was a new vision for the neighborhood. For me, it’s about amplifying community voice.
I think that lifting up the voices of others is the key to success in this work. It’s the key to caring about the world. And Geeta does it so seamlessly. I think that’s the heart of what Geeta can see and that’s what makes her work in community developments so incredible.
In my journey, and for the past 20 years, I realized that I need to work on systems change. That we have a housing displacement and homelessness crisis that operates at the regional level. It doesn’t operate within one neighborhood or one city. In the Bay Area, there are 101 cities and there are 9 counties. And each one of those cities is trying to solve the affordable housing crisis on their own. That doesn’t make sense, especially when the most people are people of color who are not housed and who are one paycheck away from bring on the street, particularly Black and Latino families. And we have to end that; it’s unfair and it’s simply wrong. And so what I have been trying to do with the Bay Area Housing Finance Authority is to crush that system.
At JPMorgan Chase, it’s important we seek out relationships with businesses and people who share our values. We’re excited to highlight the story of Geeta Rao and Enterprise Community Partners, who work tirelessly to strengthen the communities in which they live and work.
Rao, Enterprise’s Senior Director in Northern California, has spent more than 20 years finding solutions to the affordable housing crisis. In that time, she’s accomplished much in her career, including:
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