Thursday, June 27, 2013

NYC Apartment Search Continues...

So my boyfriend and I decided to leave our apartment on or before the date our landlord proposed and after  a few heated "discussions", she offered incentives such as cash back when we turn in keys and additional money for each day we leave before the deadline. Apparently she's going to put up walls and make closet size bedrooms and rent the place out for a few extra hundred bucks. Let's see how she likes those tenants. 

Even though we still won't be in a position to move within the next 5 weeks, we figured it would be best to stay with his mom to avoid going to court (especially since we were on a month to month lease and not a year long lease) which will force us to miss out on work and potentially damage our credit and still run the risk of not being able to secure an apartment in time.

As someone that works in real estate I know how important a strong credit score is for securing an apartment. And not just in areas like Park Slope or Williamsburg, I'm talking Flatbush, Crown Heights and Bed Stuy. I also know that any landlord/tenant issues on a credit report will almost certainly destroy any chance of renting somewhere decent. So, we are doing what I hate to have to do but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

So just when I started feeling all bad about myself for being nearly 30 and having to move into my mother-in-law's apartment I came across the site Worst Room which didn't necessarily make me feel better, but gave me a bit of a laugh. I pray none of the people that live in these conditions have children, but I think it is kind of funny that people will pay the price for a dump in a "hip neighborhood" when they can pay the same money and get a decent apartment a little further out in Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx. 

For anyone going through landlord drama in NY, here is some helpful information. And if anyone has any other additional resources feel free to comment and don't forget to subscribe!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pregnancy Discrimination Has Got To End

The National Women’s Law Center and A Better Balance released a study highlighting the discrimination that many pregnant women, more specifically those in low paying and physical jobs face even though the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 guarantees pregnant women the same considerations someone that is sick or disabled would receive. The study featured women that were capable of doing their job with minor restrictions such as not lifting more than 20 lbs or sitting on a stool instead of standing behind a cash register for 8 hours. These women were often fired, denied water and forced to take unpaid leave during their pregnancies that they would have saved for after the birth of their child. 

It is fairly unreasonable to expect that in a field that requires physical strength each employee is going to be physically capable to perform certain tasks throughout the entirety of their career. There are more risks involved and with those risks come injury resulting from accidents or the inability to perform a job due to an unrelated accident, illness or age. If certain groups of people can be accommodated, then why can’t pregnant women? 

Wouldn't an employer benefit from offering slight adjustments rather than firing existing employees and hiring and training new employees? And if so, what makes them think they will hire a woman that does not want or cannot have children? Firing one woman and replacing her with another is not going to solve the underlying issue. Employers need to take a common sense approach when dealing with pregnant women instead of looking down on someone for getting pregnant while unmarried or working a low paying job.

I think we need to stop looking down at those that are less educated, speak English as a second language or work lower paying jobs. For the most part, parents want what is best for their children and want for them to grow up with more opportunities in life than they did. Some families are just starting out on their journey to achieve that and some have already reached it, and a person's paycheck should not be an indicator as to whether or not they are good parents or should or should not have children. 

When will we begin to realize that pregnancy discrimination is not only a women’s issue, but a family issue? And bigger than that, a societal issue? Women that work in fields that are physical, require standing for long periods of time and with infrequent breaks are working so that they can support their families. They are paying taxes. They are contributing to society. Some women may choose their profession, such as a police officer, and others may work a job because working at the local Walmart is their only option. Whether they chose their physical career or not, there is overwhelming evidence that supports the necessity of a diverse workforce

 For every woman with a child there should be a man defending her right to safe working conditions while pregnant. For every couple that desires to have children in the future, there should be a man defending his partner’s right to have safe working conditions. Even for those who choose not to have children, I am sure at some point they have a woman in their life that works and contributes to her family whether it be their own mother, sister or friend. The point I am trying to make is this is not an issue that should only be fought by pregnant women facing work place discrimination. 

Although legislation cannot change an employer's opinion, it can at least guarantee the most vulnerable workers the protections they need. When employers and society as a whole begin to recognize the contributions that women make in the workforce whether it be as an executive with a major company or in a low paying entry level job, the need for these laws will hopefully cease to exist. Until then, it is important to allow hard working, law abiding taxpayers to continue to work and provide for their families. 

Please click on this link to the National Women's Law Center and tell the EEOC to issue strong guidance to employers about workplace discrimination. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

What is Success?

When you think about success in life what comes to mind? Is it the house with the two car garage, a “good” job that offers benefits and a retirement package? Is it being a top level executive with a Fortune 500 company or an entrepreneur? Is it making enough money to take exotic vacations and own a wardrobe of designer clothes or the ability to not have to work full-time?

I've seen plenty of people that went to work in a suit and tie (or skirt suit) in corporate America after college to learn shortly after they hated it. They hated being micromanaged, they hated sitting in front of a computer for nine hours a day. They hated not being able to take as much personal time off to pursue their passions; they felt work was taking over their entire lives. Is climbing the ranks of a major corporation the epitome of success in America and is this what we should be encouraging our sons and daughters to do?

I ask these questions because when I think about my own personal happiness, I don’t envision myself in a suit, moving from cubicle to corner office to suite over the course of twenty years with a major corporation. I don’t envision myself having to wait 10 years to take 3 weeks vacation or working 50-60 hours a week for someone else. I see myself as being independent and working for myself. I see myself having the ability to decide for myself if I can make my son’s school play or take time off because he’s sick and not have to ask permission or be made to feel guilty about it. I see myself as making enough money to support my family and save for my retirement. I see myself as having a life outside of work.

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post about Millennial women not aspiring to be executives in corporate America. Maybe they see the stress that their male counterparts face in those positions and think, I don’t want this for myself. I do firmly believe women need and deserve to get paid what their male counterparts are earning and families should have more favorable options as far as flex time and maternity/paternity leave. But for some people, even with the additional benefits (for those that are fortunate enough to have those options available) working in said environment still may not be all its cracked up to be.

Could that be the trend? That more people, women in particular, are seeking careers where they are their own boss, they set their own rules and still have the ability to raise a family in the way they wish to? I think the spotlight should not only be on the female CEO of a major company, but on the people that have been able to start something from scratch whether it be as a small business owner, freelance writer or consultant where their creativity, skills and intellect can be used to its fullest extent and not limited based on a job title.

There are many different measures of success and I think we should encourage our children, the future generations, to really hone in on where they see themselves and what would truly make them happy. If becoming a CEO of a major company is their goal, then great. If not then that’s OK too. To be honest, this country would probably benefit more from there being more small businesses and banks so that large companies do not have complete control over entire economies. But hey, that’s another post for another time. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Time to Disconnect

I have found motherhood to be a lot lonelier than I anticipated. I get that my life is different now, and I can’t expect to go to happy hour after work with my friends, go to the gym when I feel like it or afford to take cool vacations. I don’t have much family in NY and neither does my boyfriend so our son won’t have the experience I had growing up surrounded by lots of 1st, 2nd and 3rd cousins.

I've used social media as a way to keep up to date with what everyone was doing from my single, childless friends to my acquaintances with children and found myself feeling as if my life sucked. Between feeling left out when I see the fun my friends have without me to seeing the dates and budding social lives my acquaintances with children seemed to be able to maintain, I started to feel like I was doing something wrong. After working all week which results in my son being in daycare for 50 hours, laundry, cleaning, groceries and cooking I really didn't have the time, energy, money to go out on dates with my boyfriend or spend an entire Saturday at brunch. And even if I did? Who would watch our son?

I felt as if being connected to what everyone was doing was making me feel worse. The last thing I want to see on a Sunday afternoon when I’m tired from laundry and grocery shopping is people with and without kids at some social event, dressed up and having fun. OK, I get it, I don’t have family that is really willing to babysit and I’m broke but do I need to be constantly reminded of that? I decided it was best to delete my Facebook and to be honest, I feel great.

I think its easy to look at other people's lives with envy at times when I feel down. When I'm feeling cranky because I didn't get much sleep because he was up all night with a cough, when I just paid my rent and utilities and feel broke or when I haven't had much time with my boyfriend because he worked overtime during the week and I'm lonely. 

I also understand that everyone’s life is different. Would I really want to go out every weekend? Would I really want to spend so much time away from my son so I could have a social life even though he’s already in daycare 50 hours a week? The answer is a simple NO. I actually feel terrible I spend as much time away from him as I do and during the rare occasions I do go out I think about him constantly.

I love being a mom and understand there are sacrifices that come along with it. I take pride in keeping a clean, orderly home and preparing healthy meals for my family. I enjoy the time I spend with my son on the weekend because we don’t have much time during the week. So why the frustration when I see what everyone else is doing? I think its easy to look at other people’s lives and see fault in our own. While I would love to have a date night with my hubby every once in a while and have the chance to catch up with friends over brunch or drinks after work I wouldn't want that to be what I spend all my time doing outside of the home.

I’m not looking to judge how other people spend their time and how they raise their children. Some people may not have their children in daycare as many days or hours that I do and get that quality time with their kids. Some may have more help from family with preparing meals and housework. I don’t know and I honestly don’t care. Sitting around thinking about what everyone else is doing is taking away more of the precious time I have with my son doing the things that are most important to me and my family.

Friday, June 14, 2013

NYC Apt Search

I consider myself fortunate to have lived in a cheap apartment by NYC standards for as long as I have. Originally, my mom, brother and I lived in the small one bedroom for about 5 years when she and my step dad separated until they got back together about four years ago. The landlord was OK with me staying and requested additional security since I was “so young”, but eventually dropped the rent by $50 because I was “such a good tenant”.

When my boyfriend and I found out I was pregnant, we decided it was best to hold on to the $850 apartment instead of rushing into getting bigger space so that we may save instead. Our landlords were OK with him moving in, but not so much when they discovered I was pregnant. That’s when the problems started. My landlady’s response to why it would be a “problem” for us to have a baby was “we had a couple that was not married and they had a baby and they used to fight a lot. The police even had to come one time so you see? That’s why we don’t want couples that have children out of wedlock in our apartment.” And then she raised the rent.

Now I get that when you pay cheaper rent you sacrifice certain things like heat during the winter and repairs to the giant hole in the living room wall caused by the neighbors in the attached house. You put up with street noise and pollution blowing in our apartment since we’re on the ground floor, we deal with the landlord’s father in law smoking directly in front of the house so that the wind blows the smoke inside through our open living room window. We deal with repairs to the apartment not being taken care of and asked questions like “what did you do to cause that crack in the ceiling?” months after requested repairs.

On that snowy day when we brought our son home from the hospital to a freezing apartment, I was told “you see? I told you this baby was going to cause problems for us” when I requested the heat be turned back on. I had to deal with random “inspections” multiple times a month and constant drop ins (they live in the house next door) so they could see how many visitors we had because “when you have a baby, everyone wants to come see it and we never approved you having company over”. 

I was harassed by my landlady, asked if I was receiving government benefits because “I know the government gives money to minority women that have babies out of wedlock so if you’re getting money from the government I need to know.” Huhhhh?????? And WHY would it be any of her business you may ask because I certainly did ask and her response was- “if you’re getting cash from the government then I can raise your rent because you have more money.” I was threatened on Christmas Eve with yet another rent increase (only months after my first one by the way) because the guy next door rented his two units and got more money so they felt it was best I find something new so they could rent it out for more money.

We stayed because we weren't going to pick up and voluntarily leave just because we felt bad our landlords weren't making as much money as the guy next door. We decided even though we weren't happy living in such a small apartment we’d A) wait till we were financially ready to move or B) wait until we were told we have to leave hoping the former would come first. Well, the time has come and our landlady asked us to leave in 60 days and I should feel “lucky I gave you 60 days because I only have to give you 30 days notice.”  

Finding a reasonable two bedroom apartment wouldn't be such a challenge if we weren't already spending money on daycare. The cost of the average apartment in Brooklyn is currently $2600. Landlords normally request you earn 40x the rent which means you would have to earn approximately $104,000. The average household income in Brooklyn is approximately $60,000 which means the average household qualifies for a $1500 apartment. Add childcare, insurance and the other expenses families with children have and even a $1500 apartment may not seem all that affordable. Affordable housing in NYC is going to get even tighter for the neediest New Yorkers. With cuts and decreases to Section 8 vouchers, those at or below the poverty line are not going to be able to find anything at all.

It leaves me to wonder if the middle class or lower middle class can continue to live in the outer boroughs of NYC (forget about Manhattan) if the prices continue to rise. Its as if the teachers, healthcare workers, civil servants, secretaries and retail workers don't count. We contribute greatly to this city but with the way we are being pushed out it is clear we are not valued as doing so.

I have 60 days to find something. I will be sure to provide updates on my search and provide resources for anyone struggling to find housing in NYC as well.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Can We Afford To Have It All?

I've found that most of the articles I've read regarding the work life balance that families need so that both parents can thrive in the work place centers around those that are highly educated and are already established in their careers. When you have an MBA from an elite university or have worked and established yourself within a Fortune 500 company one may have more leverage with requesting things like a flexible schedule or paid maternity leave. So, what about everyone else? What about the Millennials that have not gone to college or recently graduated from school and have not gained valuable work experience? What about those of us that work in positions or industries with a sink or swim mentality instilling the fear that we can be easily replaced?

Not all families have two parents in the household, not all families have parents that can afford nannies or full time daycare so that both parents can work long hours and travel for work. Many families work in industries such as healthcare or retail where the hours are inflexible and the wages are low. How do we lean in? Is it fair to penalize or condemn those of us that are not fortunate enough to have the same choices and possibilities as someone like Sheryl Sandberg or Marissa Mayer? Is it fair to expect that those of us with a household income below $80,000 should not procreate at all?

Don't get me wrong, I am glad that there are women like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg in the positions of power that they are in that can make decisions that benefit families, help to foster an environment where moms and dads are able to thrive and contribute the way they did before becoming parents. I am glad the “lean in” debate has received the attention that it has so that it may create a dialogue at other companies with regard to favorable policies for families that would extend to all employees, not only those that are in a position of authority.

Most other first world countries have more favorable policies for working families than the U.S. Yes, the cost of providing paid leave can be costly but the cost of having to replace workers or face the risk of losing quality workers must be an incentive for employers to provide paid leave for new moms and dads. If some of the most successful companies can see the value in retaining their workforce why can't other companies do the same?

It is clear not all families are the same, which create unique challenges across the board. Whether it’s the woman who has found success in corporate America but earns less than her male counterparts or the dad that cannot get the flexible schedule he needs to be home more with his family or the single mom that works her butt off but still needs to rely on government assistance to barely make ends meet; families are in dire need of support in this country and we need favorable policies that will help us continue to thrive and grow as a nation. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Love & Marriage

It would be nice to be able to call my boyfriend my husband. I wouldn't have to deal with the confused look on people’s faces when they try to figure out if he’s the “same guy” as my son’s father. I wouldn't have to deal with people asking me if our son was an accident or not. Or how much money he gives me or if he hits me (yes, I was asked this my a former coworker I barely knew), unless I came to work with bruises on my body or seemed to have been in emotional distress I don’t get what would warrant a question like that.

If I could introduce him as my husband, people would accept that we are in love, planned our pregnancy and are happy and together. If I could refer to him as my husband I wouldn't have to feel the judgment passing over me by my much older, conservative coworkers. I won’t feel half as defensive when my friends talk about their plans to have children after marriage and the age of 35 because they "don't want to be someone's baby mama". It may sound a little nice to call him my fiancĂ©e, as other people have taken the liberty of calling him (I have corrected them of course) but the truth is we're not even engaged.

Being Black, Latina, in my twenties and from Brooklyn with a child out of wedlock tends to invite a ton of stereotypes. I get it. I've heard many of them. Although I know I should not allow other’s views of me define who I am and how I live my life, I can’t help but to feel as if I am some sort stereotype of the so called typical unwed mother and I HATE that.

I am a college graduate, I work full time, pay my own bills and do not rely on government assistance. I am not looking for someone to take care of me, but I want to make sure I’m in a union where we can take care of each other, where I won’t be the one left to pick up the slack and have not only the housework on my shoulders but the majority of financial responsibilities as well. My boyfriend and I are in love but there are so many other aspects to marriage and love may not be the answer to everything.

Do we want to live in an apartment or a house? Rent or buy? What kind of retirement do we want to have, how much financial support are we willing to provide to our son when he goes to college? Can we afford more children? These are all questions I have and to be frank, I don’t have the answers to them. I’m not saying I need to know exactly what will happen in the future because I don’t think anyone can ever know or be fully prepared, but it is important to know you are both moving in the same direction.

I could be one of those people that say “if it ain't broke, don’t fix it”, or “we don’t need a piece of paper to validate our love”, but I do want to get married and not just because it would be more socially acceptable. It would be nice to have more financial stability, to put our money together and save. The truth is, the money isn't there right now and sadly, many divorces end due to financial hardships and the chance of divorce decreases with age.

I think for us at this time, it would be best for us not only to focus on being the best parents we can be for our son, but really take a step back and think about US. What do we want in life, where do we see ourselves in five or ten years instead of just “together”. What do we want out of life and what are we willing to do to achieve our goals? I don’t want to enter a union to divorce like many of my family members. Or remain in an unhappy marriage because it’s best for our son. I would rather cohabit and make a decision I feel fully comfortable with than become yet again, another statistic.