DC Rents Too High? How Members of Congress Make It Work

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made waves this week after she said she can't afford to rent an apartment in D.C. until her congressional salary kicks in.

"I have three months without a salary before I’m a member of Congress. So, how do I get an apartment?" the New York millennial told The New York Times.

Critics scolded that she should have saved money earlier, but a wave of supporters across the D.C. area, including chef José Andrés, offered the 29-year-old rooms in their own homes.

"Dear Congresswomen: you have a room, a shower, and a plate on my family table for as long as you may be in need of one," Andrés tweeted Friday.

Facing some of the steepest rents in the country, how do members of Congress make it work? Here are a few past examples.

Get a Roommate: A few members of Congress have famously shared apartments and houses. Sen. Chuck Schumer used to sleep on a bed between the kitchen and living room of a rowhouse he shared with Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, former Rep. George Miller of California and others who came and went, the Times reported.

The living arrangement that inspired the Amazon series "Alpha House" began in the early '80s, when Miller's family moved back to California from D.C., CNN reported. The roommates split in 2014, after Miller retired and sold the house.

Sleep in Your Office: A number of members of Congress have been known to sleep on couches and cots right in their offices. Rep. Dan Donovan, who represents Staten Island, New York, told the New York Post earlier this year that he's able to afford his New York City rent by sleeping on a cot in an alcove in his office.

"If we go to the point where you have to rent or have to buy [in DC], then only millionaires would be members of Congress," he said. "I don’t think that was the intent of our Founding Fathers."

Rep. Lee Zeldin said he sleeps on a bed he stores in an office closet.

Get Well-Connected, But Beware: Scott Pruitt, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was widely criticized for renting a Capitol Hill condo linked to a D.C. energy lobbyist for $50 per night.

At about $1,500 per month, the rate at the high-end condo on C Street NE is lower than advertised rates for rentals in the neighborhood. One-bedroom apartments range between $1,600 and $2,500 a month, depending on amenities. Single rooms listed online for one-night rentals averaged about $120 a night.

Pruitt had cheap rent, but he resigned in July amid multiple ethics investigations.

Bite the Bullet and Contact a Broker: After previous midterm elections, Capitol Hill real estate brokers told this writer that freshman members of Congress often rent small apartments in the area. Broker Donna Evers said she showed a representative-elect a 700-square-foot basement apartment near the Capitol priced at $1,300 a month.

"If their family isn’t here and they work all the time, all they have to have is a very simple place to hang their hat," Evers said. "Who wants to spend a lot of money on a place they’ll barely be?"

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