Even Congress Can’t Afford the Cost of Rent
In his younger, single, more carefree days, a friend working as a congressional aide lived near Capitol Hill, giving him a short walk to work.
The only way he could afford to live there: he split the $1,800-a-month rent with five other guys so they could afford their modest rooming house.
So, I wasn’t a bit surprised by the recent New York Post article that detailed how an estimated 100 congressional representatives are sleeping in their offices because they can’t afford an apartment.
“Washington is too expensive,” Staten Island Rep. Dan Donovan told the Post, adding that the cot he sleeps on in an office alcove is the reason he can afford to serve in Congress and still pay housing costs in the city.
No kidding. My friend got off cheap with his share of that $1,800 total.
The Post mentioned Minnesota Rep. Tim Waltz used to split the $3,600 bill for an apartment with former Florida Rep. Patrick Murphy. However, when Murphy lost his Senate bid in 2016, Walz took to sleeping on an office cot.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia told the newspaper about the costs of living in the capital. “I can’t afford an apartment.”
Of course, it’s not just Washington, D.C. that is prohibitively expensive.
When my brother lived on Long Island, his real estate taxes alone were more than my monthly mortgage payment in West Virginia.
About a decade ago for a story on pastoral compensation, I interviewed an associate pastor who lived in Manhattan. His $145,000 salary back then might have popped some eyes elsewhere—but not when you consider that he was paying $3,300 a month for an 800-square-foot apartment.
That was 27 percent of his total income. Financial guru Dave Ramsey says no more than 25 percent of your take-home pay should go towards a house payment, taxes and insurance. So you can see why this pastor’s salary was considered “modest” in Manhattan.
I suppose there’s a law of supply-and-demand at work, but when nearly one-fifth of our representatives are bunking in their office because of housing costs? Well, maybe one day that concern will trickle down to daily life for folks in other parts of America.
Honestly, I have to wonder how anyone of modest means can afford to live in any major metropolitan area in the nation. Consider:
- In March, the Seattle Times reported that new home prices had reached $777,000 in the city, and up to $950,000 on the tonier east-side.
- A month later, USA Today ranked the most expensive markets in all 50 states. They included an eye-popping $1.1 million in San Francisco County (well, about $12,400 shy of that mark), California.
- Last year, Money magazine reported that rental rates had increased 18 percent over the previous five years.
There are various factors at work here. As various critics have noted, government regulations that stifle home-building have left too many cities with too little housing.
Yet the low wage rates affecting so many Americans are at play as well.
Consider the report mentioned by Money that to afford a modest two-bedroom home, renters need to earn just over $21 per hour. That is nearly $5 an hour more than the average hourly pay and nearly three times the federal minimum wage.
Ignoring the Problem
Given this scenario, I had to chuckle over the reaction of some lawmakers to their cohorts bunking at work.
The Post reported that legislation is due to be introduced in the House that would prohibit legislators from turning their offices into makeshift quarters. Ostensibly, because it violates IRS and congressional ethics rules.
Somehow, I don’t think ignoring the problem of outrageous housing costs will make them go away.