It’s expensive to live in New York. I notice it most when I buy food. There’s the 99 cent option and then there’s a healthy choice. I’d rather buy my girls real orange juice, but then I’m always thinking about everything else we need to pay for.
I have been a porter at 75 Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights for 13 years. I like my job and the tenants I work for, but the main reason I get up every Sunday at 4:30 a.m. for work is because of my family. I work overtime for them. My wife works overtime too – sometimes until 10 p.m. at night – at her office job in Manhattan. We couldn’t make ends meet without both of our incomes and even then there are some months that we skip a bill or two. We help out my parents and sometimes her family too with some of their bills.
The rent on our two-bedroom apartment in East New York went up by another $80 this year. We make “too much money” to qualify for government subsidies on our rent, but there’s nothing left over at the end of the month. I can’t even keep track of how much more milk and meat have gone up – I just know it’s more each year. Even a night out at the movies with our family is too much most of the time – we just watch something on television instead.
It may sound like I’m complaining, but that’s not how I mean it. I’m proud of the money I make. My first job was minimum wage and my second didn’t pay much better. The life my wife and I are giving our daughters is an easier one than where I began. I’m a project kid. I grew up in the Gowanus Houses. I slept on the couch in our apartment because there wasn’t an extra room for me. When I was 14 we got evicted, and I had to find a place to stay and grow up fast. I dropped out of high school, but I was smart enough to get my GED.
I’ve made sure it’s different for my girls. They share a nice room and they go to good schools. Zaria is a straight A student at Midwood High School and Amaya is the same at her middle school. I want my girls to go to college; that is my hope for them. As girls, I don’t want them to have to depend on a man or anyone else to get by. Rich people want the best schools for their kids, and that’s what I want too. They might not go to the same schools, but I want them to go to the best ones they can get into. We are hoping for a scholarship, but we aren’t able to save right now, so that’s really our hope.
Getting a good contract will mean I can keep up with our bills and not fall behind. It will also mean I can give my girls opportunities that I didn’t have. I know lots of my friends who didn’t make it out of the projects. I know the people who are in the tale of two cities that the Mayor de Blasio talks about. Some people think they’re not good people, but most of them just haven’t been given an opportunity to do something better.
I’m not rich, but I’m also not poor. This contract is about making sure that those of us in the middle class can stay there and making sure that our children can too, or maybe go further.