Name: John Zody
Organization: City of Bloomington Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development
Position: Director of the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development
Location: Bloomington, Indiana
Alma Mater: BSPA ’01, MPA ‘13
1. Can you tell our students a little bit about yourself and the work that you do?
The Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development has a team of 17 focused on a variety of areas. We run rental unit permit inspections, where the city periodically inspects units to provide safe housing regardless of the rent you pay. The department administers federal funding for the HOME and CDBG programs, as well as the City’s historic preservation program. Our team also works with 50 different neighborhood associations (some are formal others are volunteer groups) around the city of Bloomington with communication and coordination as well. There isn’t a restrictive policy as to whom HAND works with, as we want to make sure that residents of Bloomington feel that they have a voice in local government and that their concerns are heard.
2. What did your professional journey look like from college to your position today?
It’s kind of crazy how things came full circle for me. My first internship was for the Mayor of Bloomington in 1997. From there I did other jobs within higher education, state and local government, and politics at all levels, starting out at the Indiana Department of Commerce and then two of our Indiana Governors in their offices. I also worked for U.S. Representative for Indiana’s 9th congressional district Baron Hill from 2007-2011. Now, I am back in Bloomington as the director of the Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development.
3. What advice do you have for someone who wants to follow your career path?
We need more people going into public service and the public sector as the political climate has been uneasy lately, deterring people. Sometimes the job can be hard, stressful, and slow but it is a dynamic profession. Indiana University’s O’Neill School trains students to be a practitioner rather than theorists, which is very important in this job. You are really doing something that impacts people, which makes the job worthwhile.
4. What drives you to be successful in your job every day?
At the end of the workday, I always measure if I was successful in accomplishing the tasks, I set out to do. If I didn’t accomplish them, then I reevaluate to make tomorrow better. You must be interested in what you are doing and motivated to help people. Local government has the unique power to have an immediate impact felt compared to state and federal which might take a little longer. This work is very rewarding when you get to see your actions realized and played out in the community.
5. What should our students be reading or influencers they should be paying attention to?
Students should be looking at a variety of sources, from press briefings to newspapers and television. Don’t just read the news that you agree with, read both sides so you can understand the viewpoints of your opponent. This allows you to be an effective communicator and reach solutions that you may not have thought of before.
6. Our school’s motto is “Lead for the Greater Good,” what does this mean to you and how do you use it in your profession every day?
O’Neill gives you the great opportunity to find an area that aligns with your interests. You must understand in public service that it isn’t about you, you are serving a community bigger than yourself. The quote, “we all do better when we all do better” is especially important in my line of work, as you are contributing to the greater good. It is an amazing feeling to see the condition of the community changing and improving through your work.
7. If students are interested in working in the Bloomington Department of Housing and Neighborhood Development, how should they go about finding that opportunity?
The city’s human resource department posts internships when HAND or other departments are looking for some extra help. An ideal candidate would be somebody who is organized, and willing to learn by working on special projects, and by doing things like answering the phones and e-mails to direct constituents to the right place in their local government. Sometimes the work doesn’t look as exciting as it may seem, but it is super important. The value of diving in and saying, “what needs to be done” and doing it, allows you to gain more responsibilities and advance in the workplace.