‘New York is great, once you get over the real estate issue’
Wild Geese: Hazel Jane Lyons rents a one-bed loft in Tribeca for €4,000 a month
Hazel Jane Lyons: “I moved here in December 2001. Initially I thought I’d stay for the duration of the visa, but I’m still here.”
“New York is great, once you get over the real estate issue, which is akin to that of a small developing country,” 44-year-old Hazel Jane Lyons, who lives and works in Manhattan, says of the Big Apple, which she has called home for 17 years.
Originally from Blarney in Co Cork, Lyons left Ireland for Sydney in 1996 after graduating from UCC with a degree in arts and history. She took up bar tending, call centre work and any job that allowed her to enjoy a post-degree year of travel and fun.
“Like a lot of people finishing college, I wanted to see the world and went to New Zealand and Fiji, and travelled all around Australia.”
On the way home, she stopped off in San Francisco. “I landed in California and thought: ‘I’m not going home. This place is amazing’,” so she stayed, making money house-sitting, dog-sitting and working in restaurants in Fisherman’s Wharf, while throwing herself into the city’s burgeoning dance music scene.
Three years later, Lyons decided she wanted to be a flight attendant based out of Europe.
“I ended up in Hounslow, west London where I went for numerous interviews. I was nearly there, but then they passed on me. I was back in San Francisco two weeks later.”
Her US endeavour wasn’t to last as Lyons got itchy feet again and moved back to London. “I went for an open interview for a regional sales role at a publishing company, which would include spending time in Dubai and the Middle East.”
Lyons got the job with Northstar Travel Media, with whom she still works. “At the time, Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum was opening Dubai up for global business and tourism.
“I worked a lot with the big hotels, including the Jumeirah Beach Hotel and the Burj al Arab, as well as hotels and businesses in Kuwait, and other Levant and GCC [Gulf] countries.”
On September 11th, 2001, Lyons was in Beirut when the Twin Towers were attacked. She got a call from her boss to leave the gulf states as the market was to fall out of them as a result of what happened.
Lyons was offered a position in New York on a 2L1A visa, an intra-company transfer, which allowed her to live and work in the US for three years. “I moved here in December 2001. Initially I thought I’d stay for the duration of the visa, but I’m still here.”
Lyons moved to downtown Manhattan, which was “pretty bleak at the time”. “Obviously it was a very depressing time in New York and I remember thinking I’d made a terrible mistake.”
She availed of a rent-controlled apartment on Mulberry Street in Soho. “It was super noisy and the streets were full of crack users, but obviously rents were cheap and, after a few years passed, I became entrenched here, finding friends and acquiring a dog.”
Her company sponsored a green card, which she says was easier to acquire during the years post-9/11. Now, Lyons says, she’s living the good life, working as an international advertising director, living in trendy Tribeca.
“Sure, my rent is high here. I’m one of the lucky ones, still living in Manhattan.” Lyons pays €4,000 per month for a one-bed loft, where she lives alone.
“Gentrification has certainly meant that it’s very difficult for people to climb up the property ladder. When I first arrived here to live, people were still living in Manhattan. Now, it’s just the enclave of the really wealthy.
“If you work in financial services or banking and you’re on the top of your game, selling your soul to the devil, you can do well here. If, however, you arrive on your own back, be prepared: you could be stuck in the suburbs sharing a room with four others.”
But don’t be put off by the Big Apple, she insists. “If you want to come to New York, give it a shot. It’s still very receptive to immigrants. There’s an intellectual curiosity and Irish people are still very welcome here.”
Lyons advises people who are relocated to New York via their employers not to be afraid to speak up when negotiating a package.
“I negotiated five weeks’ holidays per year. I’m European, so it was wildly important to me. Americans have two weeks on average. It’s de rigueur to what sector you’re in, but try to negotiate to include broker fees for apartments here.” They cost about 15 per cent of the rent on apartments, so it’s good to know in advance, she says.
“If you’re a trader or banker, expect to work 50-60 hours a week, but not everyone is enslaved to their desks. I work 40 hours, which is the norm.”
So what about moving back to Ireland? “I’m not completely closed off to the idea. Life moves very quickly here, so If I had the right job, with the right income and the right house, then why not. New York is full on. Sometimes you imagine a quieter existence.”
In the meantime, Lyons said she would like to spend three months in west Cork in the summer sometime and see how she adapts it.
“I would never want to put all my eggs in one basket. You always need to be ready for change, or to try something new, no matter how anchored you are in one place.”