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OC Power Women: 5 Questions With Innovative Housing Opportunities President And CEO Rochelle Mills

This limited series profiles Orange County Power Women who have helped shape SoCal cities, neighborhoods, businesses and lifestyles. These women will be honored at Bisnow's Orange County Power Women event Aug. 21 in Irvine. 

You can say Rochelle Mills is a jill-of-all-trades.

Before becoming the CEO of Innovative Housing, Mills worked as an architect, a project manager, a planning commissioner and more. 

She had seven careers before landing in housing development, she said. 

Innovative Housing Opportunities President and CEO Rochelle Mills

"But those seemingly disparate career paths led me right where I am supposed to be at this moment," she said. 

Now, celebrating her 13th year at Innovative Housing, Mills said being creative, flexible and open to the world beyond the commercial real estate industry allows her to help the company do its best work. 

Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?

Mills: Innovative Housing Opportunities is a nonprofit developer that creates vibrant communities by providing high-quality affordable homes with services that help residents thrive and build strong futures for themselves. We look for opportunities to develop catalytic communities where people want to live; communities that reflect a diversity of income levels, backgrounds and skill sets in beautifully designed environments that revitalize neighborhoods. IHO’s vision is to create a successful model for low-income to moderate-income housing that is attractive, sustainable and replicable. 

Bisnow: What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career and how did you achieve it?

Mills: I am most proud of my ability to find success in the various paths my career has taken over the years. I started my career in architecture. An ever-evolving economic and political climate has meant that I have had to get comfortable with personal and professional transitions beyond my control that I was not sure I was capable of making. I had seven careers before landing in housing development for what I thought would be a two-year stint. But those seemingly disparate career paths led me right where I am supposed to be at this moment.

Bisnow: How have you seen companies change in the way they address wage and gender inequality in recent years?

Mills: It’s interesting to note that most of the longest-standing and successful organizations in affordable housing are led by women — and women of color at that! Most offices have a diverse staff at all levels and all positions. It is something that I have taken for granted. I have noticed lately, however, that some of my colleagues’ boards and executive teams are becoming monolithic. In a field as inherently diverse as this is, this “trend” is both surprising and unsettling. As an organization that serves diverse communities, I look for authenticity and mission alignment in the partners we work with as they will be seen as a reflection of IHO’s core values. It wasn’t an attribute that I asked about before, but it is one I look at now before I sign the [memorandum of understanding].

Bisnow: What piece of advice do you give others entering the industry?

Mills: Affordable housing is a dynamic field that benefits from fresh solutions and new energy from all ages, backgrounds and skill sets. The work we do has the ability to build up or destroy communities and the people who live in them. I would tell someone considering this industry to understand we have been given an awesome responsibility that can’t be taken lightly. With the shortage of staff available at all levels, I look for people who are willing to roll up their sleeves, stretch beyond the job description, and focus on the impact and legacy we will leave.

Bisnow: What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?

Mills: When I’m not working, I love to spend time with my family and friends. In the work I do, I see many families that don’t have the luxury to unwind and spend time together. Life moves so quickly; I want my loved ones to know how much I value them whenever I have the chance. 

Meet Innovative Housing Opportunities President and CEO Rochelle Mills at Bisnow's Orange County Power Women event Aug. 21 at the Irvine Marriott.