New Digs

Far from home, crashing at a pal’s, and worrying about finding affordable digs in a new city — that’s life for members of the freshman class. What some wouldn’t give for a dorm room. Or even a futon.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) is sleeping on one of his aide’s floors. As is his chief of staff and roommate-to-be, Ray Yonkura.

“Air mattresses — exciting,” Yonkura said, telling The Hill where he and the congressman have been laying their heads in recent days. The pair have their eyes on a one-bedroom apartment near Jordan’s office in the Cannon Building (they plan to use the living room as a second bedroom). The rent is $1,220 per month, plus utilities.

But visions of foam and springs will dance in their heads for a few more nights yet. “I think it will open up soon. Maybe a week?” Yonkura said.

As freshmen work to balance their new responsibilities on the Hill with making lives for themselves and their families in Washington, the question sometimes is: By how large an order of magnitude does rent on a D.C. apartment exceed mortgage payment in a lawmaker’s home state?

“I live six blocks away in a very small apartment in Southeast,” Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), who rents an apartment blocks from the Capitol, said. “The rent is three times more than my house payment in Indiana.”

Ellsworth, a former sheriff from southwest Indiana, said he and Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) and Zack Space (D-Ohio) had planned to share a three-bedroom, but couldn’t find one in their price range. Arcuri and Space found a place together.

At least it’s just a short stroll to the office: “After the chicken dinners on the campaign, I need the walk,” Ellsworth said.

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) also is “living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood within walking distance,” Braley’s communications director, Jeff Giertz, said. “He’s commuting by foot. The old-fashioned way.” As is Rep. Bill Sali (R-Idaho), who is renting on Capitol Hill in Southeast.

Although “braced” for the high prices of Washington, D.C., Sali is less than thrilled to be “paying about double for one-third of the space” his house in Idaho offers.

“A better move for the long term is to buy, but you kind of want to make sure you’ll be here for a while,” Sali said. He called signing his lease a “path of least resistance,” saying he didn’t have time to search for a house while winding down a campaign and organizing an office.

Keystone State Rep. Jason Altmire’s (D) apartment two blocks from his office on the Hill “is not really set up yet,” he said. Like other freshmen, he, too, is paying a lot more for his home-away-from-home than his hometown-home.

“My rent for that studio is almost two times as much as a four-bedroom in Pennsylvania,” Altmire said. But since he once worked as a legislative assistant for Rep. Pete Peterson of Florida (D) he knew the area and found the apartment himself.

Price aside, the hunt for a suitable set-up is an effort in itself. But the already-connected new members seem to have lots of help on that front.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas) helped newbie Rep. David Loebsack (D-Iowa) find an apartment by introducing him to a real estate agent who had worked in Iowa politics. Loebsack said that he and Edwards will be neighbors: “I’m living across the street from him.”

Loebsack and his wife, who intend to spend most of their time in the District, are renting an apartment near 11th Street in Southeast.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) found two landlords in Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah), who own a place located close to Bullfeathers, Lamborn’s communications director, Chris Harvin, said. The two congressmen are renting space to Lamborn.

“It’s quite small [and] it’s called the ‘Bachelor Pad,’” Harvin said. Lamborn, however, is married and said his wife has been “quite influential in decorating the office.”

For Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), finding a place was all in the family.

“He’s one of the lucky ones,” Bilirakis’s spokesman, John Randall, said. “He’s taking over his father’s condo.”  

“I was over there today,” Randall said last week of the condo on the Senate side of the Hill. “It’s actually pretty nice.”

Before the swearing-in ceremonies, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) was able to settle with his wife and two children into a “cozy” apartment located behind the Supreme Court.

“I’m not too fussy,” Courtney said. It was the only unit he viewed, and he found it — without the help of family members, staffers or fellow lawmakers — in a newspaper listing. “My wife looked at it and a couple others and decided it was the one,” the New Englander said.

Some are preparing to take the plunge and buy. A willingness to make a down payment hardly ensures an easier transition, however.

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) is staying at the Capitol Hill Suites because he still hasn’t found the right place. The father of four hasn’t decided whether a small apartment or a house would better suit his needs. “I can’t make up my mind,” he said. 

And knowing the area makes him picky about where he wants to live, Roskam said; 20 years ago, he worked for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and his predecessor, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.).

“I made an offer in Southwest … they didn’t even respond because the offer was so low,” Roskam, who admitted that he was testing the market, said. “The idea of renting just makes me crazy.”

While most new lawmakers are residing on the Hill, Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) opted to rent an apartment across the Potomac River in Crystal City. Fallin said convenience and safety were paramount in her choice. There is a Metro station close to her building, and security shouldn’t be a problem: Fallin will live with an old friend who is a two-star general working at the Pentagon.

“As a woman, it was important for me to find somewhere safe,” Fallin said. “I have two teenage children and I wanted to find a place that would be safe and easy for them to travel [into the city].”

“It’s a lot more expensive than what I have in Oklahoma City,” Fallin said. “There is sticker shock when it comes to living in Washington.”