ATHENS — I have been lucky enough to have economic mobility in my life. My biological mom's and dad's family grew up in the “projects” of Puerto Rico. So poor, that they could only afford up to $100 in rent and utilities combined.
To avoid death by poverty, my family members became one another's mechanics, carpenters, tailors, masons, dinner organizers, wedding decorators, and performing artists. Having 28 blood uncles and aunts made it survivable, especially with some family members not making it past the third grade.
Once my two moms came to the mainland (Boston) and, with assistance from my grandmother and grand-aunt, we were able to use Section 8 to no longer be homeless, food stamps to no longer be hungry, bilingual programs to learn English, workforce development to get meaningful employment, and college preparation programs to get me and my sister ahead.
I know the power of government assistance. My sister is now in a master of social work program. My mom owns her own hair salon. And my husband at the time and I were able to purchase our home - among the first in my generation to do so.
But given that we have little to no generational wealth to draw from, we're all living paycheck to paycheck to just keep our hard-achieved (and community-earned) middle-class status.
* * *
So, here I sit, lucky to own a late-1800s home with a farm property through what's a difficult time for every working-class American - including our family. Yet, every time I pump my gas, get groceries, or go out with friends - I see prices getting ridiculously out of my budget.
What will happen this winter? We provide affordable housing in our house to others from marginalized backgrounds. Their rent and our paychecks have hardly been able to keep up with the $4,000-plus a month in utilities and mortgage.
We could hypothetically bring that down by making our home more energy efficient. But the basement alone - which is missing half the insulation and half of its foundation and is consistently wet due to landscape - would cost $50,000 to start our energy-efficiency transformation.
We'd have to front the money ourselves, given that we make “too much” money to apply for government grants. But we don't have the $50,000 just lying in a bank. That's not real.
* * *
As inflation rises and as we get closer to living beyond our means, there is a trauma-related fear in me. Will we have to sell and become homeless again? Will we have to cut down on food and go hungry to pay for oil? Will we have to make it unaffordable for our current tenants? Will we have to take on more jobs, as those less fortunate than we are have often told me they work three jobs and still are living paycheck to paycheck?
Clean energy transition needs investment - not just for those who are from generational wealth, not just those who are poverty-ridden, but also for those of us in the middle whose only current projection is becoming poorer, homeless, or worse.