OPINION | Barry Richard: Congress Deserves Affordable Housing
Dozens of members of the U.S. House of Representatives are living in their Washington D.C. office space, because they say they cannot afford an apartment or a house in the nation's capital.
Several Congressmen tell the New York Post that housing costs are prohibitive while also trying to keep a roof over the heads of their families back home. So, they sleep on sofas, roll away beds, cots, couches or mattresses in their office space.
The salary for a member of the House is $174,000 per year, and includes no housing allowance. The Post says a small apartment in D.C. can start at $2,000 per month. Some lawmakers are fortunate enough to split the housing costs with colleagues, but that can still cost upwards to $2,000 per month. Most are also responsible for mortgage or rent payments back home.
The New York Post says Senators are paid about $20,000 dollars more than Representatives, and seem to have less of a problem paying for housing. For the record, congressional pay has not increased in nearly a decade.
Some members of Congress feel bunking at the office violates IRS and congressional ethics rules, and have filed legislation to outlaw the practice. Rep. Bernie Thompson (D-Miss) tells the Post, "You get free cable. Free electricity. Free janitorial. Free security. No rent. It's a heck of a deal. It probably comes out to $25,000 to $30,000" a year that isn't claimed at tax time. For a small annual fee, members get to use the House gym, which includes a shower and laundry service.
Unless the congressional pay issue is addressed, or housing allowances are provided, we could find ourselves in a situation where only the very wealthy will be able to afford to serve in Washington. My suggestion would be for the federal government to construct affordable dorm or apartment style living quarters where members of Congress can live while in Washington.
No one should have to sacrifice the needs of their family or be forced to sleep on an office floor in order to serve in Congress. No one should be prohibited from serving in Congress because they cannot afford housing.