Student Loan Broke: Can Low Net Income Housing be a Thing?

Low-income housing is at least understood if not supported as a concept. At its simplest, there are people who can’t or don’t make enough money to sustain a home for themselves and their families, so low-income housing provides an option. For the people who need this and take advantage of it, low-income housing is a valuable public service, and for those who support it, the justification from a cost standpoint is clear.

As a college graduate with plenty of student loan debt left to live off, I know that the difference between low income and low net income isn’t much during those payback years. You feel poor. You feel like you’re failing. Like it wasn’t worth it. 

Pretty sure this is true: just 90 days after you graduate, you’re expected to start repaying your student loans. That’s what the deal was in 2005, so someone tell me if lenders have gone soft since then. I’ll wait.

Assuming that’s still the case, knowing the cost for college has gone way up since then, and also knowing that the job market hasn’t kept pace, I feel good in assuming my situation 13 years ago is either more common, more severe, or both today. As of 2016, the average salary for the first job out of college was just over $50K. Took me 10 years to make that. Journalism, ammiright?

Of that average, there’s an end of the bell curve that’s really hurting. They pay a mortgage every month before they even consider buying a home. That’s what student loans feel like–a mortgage. Even with what seems like a pretty good income, your net after debt is closer to that of the low-income housing demographic. It’s gross.

And this collection of thoughts hits me on my way to work, somewhere between 88.5 (the NPR station) and 95.7 (ESPN radio). I press a button three times to get from one to the other, and sometimes this happens. I can’t shake some thought, so I turn the radio down and start talking it out. I have my first meeting of the day with me while David Greene or Mike Golic quietly make up the background.

Student loan debt housing looks at a person’s net income after student loans. Other negative factors like credit card debt can’t be factored in, because this should be specific to those who paid a high price for higher education that hasn’t yet paid off.

I can already hear people saying, ‘Yeah, nice, but how are you gonna pay for it?’ Well, that’s pretty much a recurring thought of someone dealing with low net income, so I’m used to hearing it internally. Naturally, the stakeholders are beneficiaries if the program is successful, so there has to be a way to make them part of the solution when it comes to starting and sustain the damn thing.

Key stakeholders:

  • College grads – Obviously. They’re in need and every little bit helps.
  • Local businesses – The ones that require a steady stream of college-educated workers. The more they want to live in an area, the better chance businesses have to land them.
  • Economic developers – This concept has the ring of a powerful differentiator for college grads and businesses, which means more talent, stronger local businesses, and the potential for other businesses to locate there.
  • Property developers – Just like low-income housing, they have the chance to develop a piece of property, make some money, and likely receive whatever kickbacks they’re used to getting with similar projects.
  • Local colleges – Their students stay local, perhaps turn into grad students down the road. They stay local for a long time and stay happy, they turn into donors.

This isn’t a free ride for grads; they’ll still be paying rent, just not whatever the average is for that particular city. And maybe there’s a sliding scale involved to address the range in debt-to-income levels. Pretty positive numbers can be determined that are so much lower than the average rent that grads see the value, and so much higher than zero that it actually does help make the program possible.

Then there are the rest of the stakeholders. I don’t know, tax cuts? Fuck, figure it out. Critical to keep this out of the taxpayer realm, because selling “help these poor college graduates” doesn’t exactly resonate. One last thought: You don’t necessarily need a building for this type of thing. Instead, you could say it’s an application to the city or some other relevant entity that maybe reimburses either the tenant, the landlord, or both.

Consider the possible results (more talented workforce laying roots in your city likely to work and live there for a long time, supporting your economy and having babies that fill desks in your school districts). The scalability of this alone makes it worth a try (Or does it? Serious question). You can start with a small building one year and expand from there. It could start in one city one year, show some results and then spring up in cities all over the state. Cities, companies and citizens are looking for differentiators, and this feels like, at the very least, could be one of those. 

Serious or hilarious responses only. Note: I get to decide what’s serious and hilarious.



It’s Time to Blow Up The Buffalo Bills

When in Rome, do as you do to (Greg) Roman.

Get rid of everybody.

OK, obviously not literally everybody, but it’s time to blow up the Buffalo Bills. Two years ago when Rex was hired, I was skeptical. Which is a nice way of saying I thought we were fucked. Hated him as a Jet and even more as a Bill. The paradox is that he’s apparently the most lovable guy in the world. How else do you explain him getting the job? He brought flowers with a card filled with X’s and O’s, and the Pegula’s swooned.

“He’s so real and so charming. I just, I feel like I can trust him, ya know? Plus, he totally gets my sense of humor.”

Two years later, the relationship is what we feared it would be. He said he’d get us a ring, and we told everybody that it was gonna happen. But, ya know, he’s had a rough go lately. Things aren’t working out for him, bit of a rough patch, and he just needs a few breaks and then our relationship will get back on track.

Metaphors aside, this relationship needs to end. Not a break. A breakup.

The Bills need to go full Philadelphia Eagles and Chip Kelly. They need to go Eternal Sunshine on the relationship and remove every possible reminder that this was a thing. From pictures on the wall to players in the locker room. Clean house, start over and start new. This isn’t doom and gloom, this is just what needs to happen. Of course they’ll be bad, but they’re already bad.

My next move as GM? Trade Sammy Watkins. Give him a few weeks to put up some numbers a la Marshawn Lynch and deal him to a team like San Diego that’s desperate for a receiver. Or how about San Fran? Anybody. Get what you can for him, because that guy is headed straight for the self-checkout lane. I don’t blame him. He’s the stepchild in this relationship, doomed to be a misfit for a run-first offense with a run-first coordinator and a run-better-than-he-passes QB. He’s wasted on this team, and first chance he gets, he’ll be gone. So, better get something for him now. Won’t be the two No. 1 picks the Bills gave away for him, but better than nothing. He can’t make the team win, and right now, he can barely help.

I like Whaley and I hope he stays, but not likely. The rest of the coaching staff? Gone. If someone out there really wanted Charles Clay? Him, too. Another wasted talent — not his fault, either.

Shit of it is that, while Sammy and others can be traded in the next few weeks, Rex and Rob are more or less stuck here until the end of the season. I mean, unless someone can go Coach Lance from Varsity Blues the rest of the way. Terrible movie, by the way. I mean, just fucking god-awful. Back-up QB is reading Vonnegut on the sideline and taking his skill guys to a strip club the night before a game, yet somehow the coach is the bad guy. Clearly doesn’t know the playbook so he makes up plays, and instead of just spiking the ball he throws it at a mascot, wasting precious seconds. So, so, so much more wrong with that film. It’s the Rex Ryan of football movies. Seems like it should be better than it actually is.


The Saddest Joke I’ve Ever Heard Is Actually Pretty Funny #EndALZ

Just through the automatic doors, summer morning humidity clinging to my back and AC taking over my front, I see Jean. Her name’s not Jean, but it is in this story. She’s at the front desk that welcomes family, friends, and any one else with business at the nursing home where I work. She’s there in her floral blouse and purple pants, a staple look she’s cultivated over her time here. I see she’s laughing. And so is Robin, the concierge.

Jean spots me and the smile remains. I see her almost every day, and every time I see her she has a joke for me.

“Hi Jean, how are you?” I say in a sweetened version of my voice.

“Good enough to get outta here,” is her reply. Like always.

“Hey, did I tell you the joke?” Her eyes shine in the hopes she can make me laugh today. She loves making people laugh. It’s as normal for her as her floral blouse and purple pants.

“Let’s here it, Jean.” She has it memorized. I’ll do my best to retell it.

“A 6-year-old boy stands in church looking up at a row of plaques with names and flags, and the boy stands there staring and staring.” Her eyes are fixed on mine and mine on hers. I always make sure to look right back at her and give her my time. It’s just a few seconds.

“The priest walks up beside the little boy as he continues to stare. The boy eventually looks up to the priest and asks, ‘Father, what does this mean?'” She holds her stare and her cadence is steady. She continues: “The priest says, ‘These are to remember the men and women who died in the service.’ The boy lowers his gaze back to the plaques and in a hardly audible voice says, “Which service, the 8:30 or the 10:30?”

We laugh together and take the first steps of a short walk. She’s so happy she got me to laugh.

Now, the hallway splits. My office is to the left and she’s headed to the right. Normally I go straight to work, but I decide to hang out with Jean. She’s already made me smile, so why not? I tell her I found out she used to be a nurse, and she admits that it’s true. She tells me where she used to work and the types of things she used to do. It’s not heavily detailed, but enough to know she has great pride in it. I tell her about my mom, a former nurse, and my wife, a current nurse. We cover about 100 yards and it’s very pleasant.

Suddenly, she stops walking. She turns to me.

“Hey, did I tell you the joke?”

I can feel my face fall and I scramble to catch it. I was absolutely crushed and my eyes move down the hall. She had forgotten. She didn’t know that not two minutes ago she had told me the joke. But her eyes are bright in the hope of making me smile all over again.

I lower my gaze back to her eyes and in a hardly audible voice I say, “Let’s hear it, Jean.”

“A 6-year-old boy stands in church looking up at a row of plaques with names and flags…”

She tells the joke. I laugh and she smiles. And I go to work.

I knew before the day started that she has memory problems. She had told me that joke 20, 30 times already, but I never considered that her memory could be so short. It had always been a few days between hearing it, so I never witnessed it in front of me like this.

She’ll tell me the joke again soon and I’ll laugh at the punchline.

Because it’s not just a few seconds. It’s time. Precious time.

A New Son Rises … OR … Daughter Is The Best Medicine

Really? That’s what I’m calling this?

Shut up, me… Just keep writing and know that no one will read this.

We’re at 22 weeks and life’s about to go Pinocchio. (That’s a catchphrase I’m trying to start or maybe a hashtag I want to get trending, ya know, because it’s about to get real. Like Pinocchio did!? #amiright? No? #jiminycrickets). I’m gonna be a dad. Caitie’s gonna be a mom. We’re gonna be parents. And a little person is going to think we’re the best, then the worst, then whatever, rinse and repeat.

There is no way around how excited I am. When I was 17 I wanted six kids–true story. I wanted to start when I was 22 or something stupid and just keep going until the lucky girl in my life threatened to leave me or kill me if I knocked her up a seventh time. I’m 32. My wife, Caitie, is cooler than the other side of the pillow (RIP Stu), and she’s talked me down to “two, maybe three if the first two are girls.” Ew, girls. We don’t know the gender, but it’s sitting inside a little gender-neutral green envelope on the refrigerator with creepy 3D pics of our genital-toting baby. My family is torn, taking sides and forming alliances of Team Penis and Team Vagina, with an epic battle for gender prognosticating superiority set for the baby shower in July.

Did I mention my wife was cool? Of all the things she could want on that day to help celebrate — artisan cookies, fireworks, trained doves, or whatever else Pinterest is pushing — she wants an ice cream truck. Yup. That’s right, she’s mine.

Without the slightest hit to my pride, I can honestly say that I have never seen her so happy. Example:

“Oh my God, I’m getting sooo big.”

That sentence said one way with one tone can sound so sad. But, and I don’t think she knows that I notice it, she says it with an awed smile. Back before we got engaged, I went ring shopping for the first time. I walked into the store and the woman asked, “Are you looking for something?” And I said, “I’m looking for something that makes her do this –” and I put my hands over my face the way Caitie does when she’s really happy. She covers her mouth as if the happiness might try to escape through her smile. That’s how she says, “Oh my God, I’m getting sooo big.”

It surprised me the first time I noticed it, and after 22 weeks I know it’s not rehearsed or inauthentic. She’s not going to be a great mom. She IS a great mom. Because the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things that kiddo is doing to her over this trial of trimesters doesn’t stand a chance to the love I know she already has. She gets sick, she aches, she cries … and then she smiles. It’s awesome. Sunday is Mother’s Day, and she’s earned it already.

In give or take 18 weeks, we’ll give a person a name. It’s a weird thought now that I’ve typed it. I don’t know how to give a name. Probably more alarming is I don’t know how to prepare a bottle without YouTube. The feet from our IKEA dresser are still on backwards three years later. Oh, and I’m only OK at cleaning, apparently.

But I can make funny noises. I can be a horsey. I can peek-a-boo. Yeah … I can dad.

You can do what you love, or not, but you still gotta work

What time is it? 9:03. Ok … Gotta get up. Come on. Fuck, my head. I still taste whiskey. For a futon, this wasn’t that bad. OK, pants, shirt, belt, name tag. Brush your teeth. Yeah, that’s gross, brush your teeth. A little product in the hair. Sprits, sprits, sprits of cologne. Better, but probably still not good. Doesn’t matter. Time to go to work.

No, I’m not 21, but that was my Sunday morning. My buddy Doug’s bachelor party was not to be missed, but neither is work when you mash three part-time jobs together to make up for the career you lost six months ago. Yeah. I lost my job. I was in newspapers (Google them, they still exist). I went to college to learn how to work for them, and will be paying that off for another seven years. I went from Ithaca College, to Trumansburg (NY), to Saratoga Springs (NY), to Norwich (CT), to Canandaigua (NY). And I worked. I got better. I worked at least one, sometimes two other jobs to supplement the criminally low salary. They shouldn’t even call it a “salary” if it’s not enough to pay back the loans you took out to get there.

So I worked. I was a fry cook, a paperboy, a fry cook again, an American Eagle associate, a gas station attendant, a freelance writer, a deli worker, a server, and a bartender over the first nine years of my career. My career jobs: Sports Editor (9 weekly papers), Sports Writer/Page Designer (‘Toga), Sports Writer/Page Designer again (CT) before promoted to Assistant Sports Editor, Page Designer (Canandaigua) before promoted to Sports Editor, then Production Editor, then back to Sports Editor, then News Editor in 2013. Since it started with a promotion, I wouldn’t have assumed it would be my last year in the biz. I shouldn’t even call it “the biz” if it continuously cuts the people who work so hard to carry its once-good name.

But, hey, gotta make that paper.

Whatever anyone thought about newspapers, at least I used to be able to say I was working in the field I trained to work in. I had a career, even though it took about eight years to be promoted enough to make just enough money to give up a second job. And then I lost it, January 6 of this year. One day before my four-year anniversary with the paper, my sixth year with the company.

“What do you do for a living?”

I work.

I’m a server, a bartender, a dock worker, a writer (POST Magazine, in Rochester) and now I’m even trying my hand at advertising sales for the same magazine. Not too many people both write and sell ads. Even fewer people write articles for a magazine, sell ads for the same magazine, load and unload freight with a forklift from 11 p.m. til 4 a.m., serve tables and sling drinks. I told Caitlynn (who’s been amazing through this up-and-down stretch): “I’m proud of how hard I work. I just don’t like my work.” I don’t work any harder now than I ever have; I just have a more diverse range than before. The biggest problem now is there is no calling out sick. No PTO. No personal days. Ahhhh …. personal days …

I work.

Sorry, hangover, you’re coming with me. I got to work Sunday and served tables for 11 hours. The next night, I served for four hours, took a break and loaded freight til 5:45 a.m. She asked me, “How can you do that?” And my response is, apparently, what it’s always been but I hadn’t realized until now: “Because I have to.” I gotta go to work. I gotta write. I gotta sell. I’m a husband and a homeowner and I want certain things and none of that comes without work.

And you know what else? I’m not special. I work with these kinds of people all the time. Bachelor’s and Master’s mixed in with GED’s and drop-outs. They all work.

My other part-time job is as professional Job Hunter. Two more applications out today. If I keep my fingers crossed any longer, they’re gonna stay that way. I recently realized how inhuman ‘Human Resources’ is now. It’s a series of fields and filters that sifts through the talent pool, weighing “Years of Experience” more than talent, requiring you to tread water for 45 minutes to get to the “Upload Resume” portion. ‘Oh, and all of that info on your resume? We’re gonna need you to retype that into the appropriate fields. We don’t want to waste human eyes on the actual resume unless you meet all of these specific criteria that may or may not determine how good you are at doing this job.’

If I sound frustrated, it’s because I”m frustrated. But someday I’ll have a shiny, new nine-t0-fiver with all the comforts of sick days and 401k contributions. So sexy. For now, I’m workin’ on it.