Congress members sleep in offices to save money on rent

Up to 50 representatives have elected not to rent apartments in Washington. Some say housing is too expensive, and others want to make a statement.

By Teresa at MSN Real Estate Feb 21, 2011 11:52AM

© Hemera Technologies/JupiterimagesThey haven't joined the "The Rent Is Too Damn High Party," but at least 33 members of Congress are having a nightly pajama party, deciding they'd rather sleep in their offices than pay rent for an apartment in Washington, D.C.

 

Like everything in Washington, this has turned into a political brouhaha. Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Mich., even appeared on the "Today" show in his pajamas.

A few Congress members have slept in their offices for years, but the number could be as high as 50 since a number of Tea Party Republicans were elected in November.

 

Freshman Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., said he decided to sleep in his office after seeing a 600-square-foot studio for $2,000 a month. "I'm not doing this as a political stunt," he told The Wall Street Journal. "I'm doing this because I'm a cheap b------."

 

Rent in Washington is expensive, but we've known plenty of journalists who have managed to rent apartments on significantly lower salaries than the $174,000 a year that Congress members make. Use "Capitol Hill" as your search term on the Washington Craigslist, and you'll find a variety of places listed starting at about $1,200 a month.


The Congress members could also do what their young staffers in Washington do: get a roommate. If a bunch of them went in together, maybe they could even rent a McMansion.

Some Congress members say they're making a political statement by sleeping in their offices, even though it doesn't save taxpayers any money, because members of Congress have to pay for their own housing.

 

"I don't want to be comfortable in Washington because I need to get back to metro Detroit," Clarke told the WSJ shortly after his election. "Businesses are struggling right now. Families are struggling. I'm only in Washington to work."

 

The organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has filed an official complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, arguing that the sleepover members of Congress are getting a tax break by getting free housing, plus they're making personal use of public resources. Since the offices don't have showers, the resident Congress members shower in the House gym.

The Wall Street Journal explains how the practice has waxed and waned in recent decades, with some House leaders opposing and some supporting the practice.

 

"House office buildings are not dorms or frat houses," said Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. "If members didn't want to find housing in Washington, they shouldn't have run for Congress in the first place."

 

And, she added: "Who wants to run into a member of Congress in need of a shower wandering the halls in sweats or a robe?"

 
65Comments
Feb 22, 2011 6:24AM
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What are these persons who sleep in their office doing?  Do they bath or use the bathroom?  Unless they are having

their bathroom, water, etc. brought in, they are using the "peoples" money for this, or they are costing the District

of Columbia more money (the District of Columbia who does not have voting representation in Congress.  We have to pay for the water, plumbing etc in these buildings.  Plus is it sanitary?  If their constituents want to visit their office, is that possible?  If they are using any facilities at the Capitol, why not let some of our homeless come in and take a

bath from time to time.

Feb 22, 2011 6:15AM
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Of the responses I've viewed so far it seems most people don't realize that our Senators and Representatives; don't LIVE in Washington D.C.  They do their business and then go home to their districts where they do live.  Call them cheap, call them frugal, call them whatever you want, I only care that they represent their constituents fairly, truthfully and are ethically inclined.  The opposite would be Charlie Rangel's ilk.
Feb 22, 2011 5:54AM
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Perhaps these guys should be as frugal with taxpayers money as they are with their salaries. I don't think they are exactly roughing it though. Their offices and the House gym are nicer than a lot of people's homes.
Feb 22, 2011 5:53AM
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if we want to fix the countrys problems like taxes the health plan balance the budget why don't we make congress and everyone else that is in these key positions work for what we do. $7.25 hr same benifits we get no retirement no cost of living no ins no perks no special treatment no body guards no different anything than what the avg. person gets. than see how fast they would fix things cause mess with thier money and things get done faster.
Feb 22, 2011 5:45AM
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The city I live in, Birmingham, AL, has zoning laws that prohibit anyone taking up residency in a structure that has been zoned as a commercial property.  Technically, this applies to even sleeping one night in a commercial building, though that is not enforced.  My husband does building maintenance for a large property management company.  And, he occasionally comes across evidence that someone is living in their office (in one case, an entire family was living in a suite rented out by the business owner).  He has to report it to the property managers.  If the tenant will not move their residency, it gets turned over to the Fire Marshall since it is a life safety violation.

 

I imagine a lot of cities have these laws on their books.  So, the question in my mind is are they breaking any laws according to the DC ordinances?  If so, they shouldn't do it.  If not, well then I still don't have a lot of sympathy for someone who still makes more than the average American whining about the cost of living.  As others have pointed out here, they should have taken this cost into consideration when they made the decision to run in the first place.  Wouldn't it be a tax deduction for them anyway?

 

I understand they don't want to shell out a lot of money if they are only there on a temporary, part-time basis.  But, as the article points out, they should consider the option of finding a roommate with one of their fellow representatives who is in the same boat.  Or, better yet, build them dorms.  I would rather not see that done on the tax payer's dollar, but maybe some builder with a little entrepreneurial spirit could either build the building or renovate an existing structure.  For a cost lower than the existing rent, the can get a private room with a king size bed, desk, cable & high speed internet access, and access to communal bathroom facilities on each floor.  Think European Hostel style.   

Feb 22, 2011 5:30AM
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Every Congressman has a staff of a few people.  I don't see anything in this article about the staff members bunking with their boss in his/her office.  That's because, unlike their cheap bosses,  these people had to find apartments, pay rent, and find the best way to get to work.  

These Congressmen are also hypocrites.   Many of them deride welfare pay outs, but aren't they doing the same thing by living in their offices?   They're "living" in government "housing" too.  

Maybe DC Social Services needs to pay them a visit to determine if they're entitled to government housing and if not, throw them out.

Feb 22, 2011 5:27AM
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Claims of frugality or solidarity with their consitutuents back home by members of
Congress in justifying this practice of free rent is just not supportable. As a previous poster showed every member of Congress sleeping in their office is guilty of tax evasion (2nd homes MUST be declared or free employer provided housing on tax returns)) and their choice to not pay for a second residence doesn't save taxpayers a dime.

As for their income, Congress voted in 1994 to have an automatic pay raise, after seeing how voting themselves a raise every year was so politically unpopular. Per diems, cafeteria credits, health club memberships, transportation subsidies, staff expansions, etc. all expand their income to well over $200,000 per year. Please take a moment to read my article on this subject at Newsvine.com titled NOBILITY AMONG US.

 

I would enjoyed any thoughtful feedback or debate. Any partisan mudslinging or spamming is not welcome.

 

 

Feb 22, 2011 5:05AM
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Honestly, I don't care where they sleep, as long as they do their job! I don't think anybody else should care either. It's not costing taxpayers more money for them to sleep there than it does any other time. (The president doesn't have to pay for his housing either) It's just another way that people can find fault with something somebody is doing. And who are we to say what they do with their money (like telling them to rent an apt). Butt out and let them be as uncomfortable as they choose. Because the more uncomfortable they are, the less likely they are to stay in office for life... like some of those who are there now, that shouldn't be there.
Feb 22, 2011 5:02AM
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When the average, run-of-mill Joe goes looking for a job in another area or state, they look at the cost of living.  I guess our elected official are not as smart as the normal guy and they are running our country.  I was a federal employee, outside of Washington.  There was no way in hell my boss would have allow me to sleep on my desk.  These guys in Washington have huge egos and small wallets.  Go home if you cannot afford your surroundings.
Feb 22, 2011 4:52AM
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Ok, obviously the vast majority of you have never slept in DIS-comfort in an office. There is certainly nothing comfortable about sleeping in an office and showing in a gym. I don't see this as trying to get more money, but it is making a statement. To me, it is saying if the people they represent are suffering, then they are going to do without as well.  I've had to sleep on the floor of my office when I get short changed between shifts, and it was not fun, (frankly, it sucked).  I don't think this is a stunt, but rather, a statement AND practicality rolled into one. Also, the lawsuit cited at the end of the article is just stupidity at its best.
Feb 22, 2011 4:40AM
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Instead of talking of men living in mother's basement; the medium can talk of congressmen living in mother's basement. At least the men living in their mother's basement save mom from having to pay plumbing and automobile repairs.
Feb 22, 2011 4:27AM
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These people are GS employees which means, because they work in Washington, they are given an increased locality pay that compensates for the higher cost of living. For example, a GS 13 step 1 employee in say South Carolina makes $81,823 a year whereas the same employee in Washington gets a 21.3% locality pay increase which would equate to $ 91,523 a year to compensate for higher costs. There is no reason they should be living in buildings that tax payers fund. They are being compensated for accepting a job in Washington and they should have taken the higher cost of living into consideration before running for office, just like the rest of us would.
Feb 22, 2011 4:18AM
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Cheap they are not!  Dedicated they are not!  They just want to justify a pay raise!
Feb 22, 2011 3:53AM
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These servants of the people make $174,000 per year BASE PAY! This does not count the perks & also the fact that a lot of these people are filthy rich to begin with! Get your "goat-smelling behind" out of my tax dollars paid for office space & do what we working stiffs do-rent or buy! This means you Bob Latta OH 5th District!
Feb 22, 2011 3:52AM
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This has nothing to do with Obama just as it had nothing to do with any other previous president. They all KNEW what the job paid and they all KNEW that rents in DC are expensive. If they can't take the heat get out of the fire! Let someone else have the job. An alternative would be for the US Government to build a real big apartment building and charge the the AVERAGE of what an apartment costs all over the country. They should NOT be allowed to live in their offices. Another alternative is for several of them to share a house or an apartment and pay their fair share but it all comes back to the fact that they, to a man (or woman) knew what the job paid before they ran for office so they have no one to blame but themselves and the cost of rent in DC is NOT AN EXCUSE! They are robbing the American people AGAIN!!
Feb 22, 2011 3:38AM
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It is a fact.  These guys will put more hours of work because they have their office and sleeping quarters mixed together.  It happened to me when I had an office in another state.  I had a short term lease on a studio that expired and I was so busy that I could not find time to get another place and my office had a Futton.  Next thing you know I am living in my office!   I was putting more hours of work than before! Around 15 hours a day six to seven days a week!  No TV, no distractions, just work!   So for all the critics in here I say to them I'd rather have them working more hours even if they live in their offices so they earn those nice salaries we pay! You have to get in peoples shoes before criticizing!
Feb 22, 2011 3:35AM
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You mean to tell me that they can put low income housing in our neighborhood alot of times where people don't want their location and they can't do a government project their.  What about gas, cab service and other means of transportation which normal working people can't afford to get to work and have to pay without a per diem. If they had to play by the same rules they blow up our back side, maybe they would cut gas prices which raises our heating bills, food, transportations  cost and just about everything we do.  
Feb 21, 2011 11:31PM
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Aren't we being a little petty here?  Who gives a damn where they sleep! There are 'major' problems in this, our, country that should be concerning all of us -- even the stupid media? 
Feb 21, 2011 11:24PM
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no one  seems to remember that all the people in congress get a per diem too, so are they trying to save money or just collect more of the taxpayers money all the time cutting programs that people need like WIC. they only cut congress budget by about 5%. Congress should take the same cut as they are forcing on other departments. if they took the 20% cut they are imposing we would saving 15.3 million a year in just salaries not to mention the savings if they give up their per diem too. not to mention if their staff took the same cut
Feb 21, 2011 10:39PM
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Like or dislike. Agree or disagree, sleeping in your taxpayer-provided free office is out and out TAX EVASION. As a financial professional for more than three decades, I know that makes these "patriots" tax felons. Since the tax laws require us to declare as income such living quarters provided for free.

If you or I were assigned to a job in Washington, D.C., and we chose to keep our house back home, we would have to rent an apartment or buy a second home in D.C. If our employer provided an apartment or house for us, the company could write it off as an expense -- an expense that would show up on our W-2 as miscellaneous additional income, and we would owe income tax on that amount. So, whatever the average rental is in D.C., that amount must be declared as income by the member of Congress who sleeps in his office.

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