By Trish Hall

The New York Times
October 6, 2002

JODY BILLINGSLEY and MARYANN MORGAN both graduated from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver last year, and both wanted to be teachers.
But jobs in Vancouver were scarce, so the two college roommates had to settle for taking work as substitutes, when they could find it.

One day, however, they saw an ad in the local newspaper seeking teachers for New York City. Ms. Morgan had been thinking about moving to the States, so she was interested; Mr. Billingsley was more inclined to move to London but figured he would check it out.

They went to the interview the New York City recruiters set up in
Vancouver, and suddenly they had jobs. “They basically hired us right there,” Ms. Morgan said.

Asked what the New Yorkers had said that so quickly sold the virtues of
the city, Mr. Billingsley was succinct: “Work,” he said.

At the interview, they also met Nam Nguyen, another recent college
graduate who was hired, and the three decided to look for an apartment together in New York.

In August, the Canadians arrived and were put up at the Brooklyn Marriott by the city school system. They were introduced to representatives of the Goodstein Organization, a real estate brokerage company, which in partnership with Esther Muller, a real estate consultant and president of the Academy for Continuing Education, a real estate training organization, had been retained by the schools to help new teachers find places to live.

Hundreds of landlords, large and small, generously responded to the
request for help, Ms. Muller said, in many cases offering a month or
two of free rent, waiving the requirement for credit checks, and lowering
rents. More than 500 teachers were helped to find places, and they were charged no brokerage fees.

The three Canadian teachers looked at a number of apartments, in
Harlem, Queens and other neighborhoods considered good for young people, but only when they arrived at the Riverbend apartments at Port Imperial, across from Midtown Manhattan in West New York, N.J., did they
find what they wanted.

They signed a one-year lease for a two-bedroom apartment that could easily be turned into a three-bedroom, with a river view and a terrace. The building complex also has two gyms, computer rooms and three swimming pools.

The teachers are paying a total of $2,000 a month for the apartment, a 5 percent discount arranged by the school system with Roseland Properties, which developed and manages the complex. There are a thousand units now, but eventually there will be 8,000.

The teachers were also given free round-trip ferry rides every day to get to their new jobs. (A regular monthly pass costs $150.)

To decide who would sleep where, the three drew straws. Mr. Billingsley and Ms. Morgan each got a bedroom, while Mr. Nguyen got the former living room, which he separated from the rest of the apartment with curtains from Ikea. But much of the time the curtains are open, which is a good thing, because his furnishings should be seen. He built his own canopy bed using large branches for a frame and cement blocks for the base.

“Work is very stressful,” he said. “When I come home, I want to feel comfortable.” Standing against one wall is his kayak, which he hasn’t had much time to use.

Mr. Nguyen teaches physical education at Public School 214 in the South Bronx, an elementary school, spending 90 minutes each way to get to the
job and home.

Mr. Billingsley and Ms. Morgan both teach first grade at P.S. 197 in the South Bronx. They work long days, leaving their apartment shortly before 6 a.m. to catch the ferry to Manhattan and then the subway to work. They rarely get home before 7, and they joke that they would stay at work longer if the building didn’t close at 5.

Still, when they get home after the long day, Mr. Billingsley said, their place is very relaxing. “It’s like living in a resort,” he said. It is far better, Ms. Morgan said, than the apartment they shared in college, a basement suite that cost them $500 a month each in Canadian dollars (these days about $315 in United States dollars). “It wasn’t anything close,” she said.

Occasionally, they have time to explore the city; a few weeks ago, they went to the Feast of San Gennaro on Mulberry Street in Little Italy, and then went shopping in Greenwich Village.

But most often they fling themselves into their new careers, usually having dinner, doing some work and going to bed early. The dining area that is now their shared living space has only a coffee table in it, given to them by a fellow teacher. But they like the emptiness; it gives them room to spread out lesson plans and charts, and to get ready for work.

The three roommates had a housewarming after they moved in, inviting other teachers they had met. But they’re all working so hard and getting up so early, Mr. Billingsley said, that “it ended at 9.”

Still, it is the work that satisfies them, and impresses them. “The school is phenomenal,” Ms. Morgan said. “The teachers are very supportive of us coming in.”

Each teacher made a one-year commitment to stay; each can stay up to five years, but at three years, they have to get state certification.

For Mr. Nguyen, the decision to come to New York was easy, and so far he loves the city. “It’s like the center of the universe,” he said. “It’s a good chance to see everything.”

But in some ways, New York has been a surprise. Ever since Ms. Morgan and Mr. Billingsley arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on Aug. 4 after a four-day trip from Vancouver, they have been amazed by New York.

“It wasn’t as big as we thought it was going to be,” she said. “And it wasn’t as loud or as busy as I thought it was going to be.”

Most of all, they were struck by how nice the people were. “It’s so friendly,” Mr. Billingsley said. “Everyone was super-friendly.”

call: Esther Muller at 646.391.7406
fax your listing to: 212-262-4610