- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

Political victories during last month’s midterm election are being followed by sticker shock as new state delegations to Congress look for housing in the Washington area.

Fifty-two lawmakers in the freshman class of the 110th Congress are searching for a place to live, each of them bringing about a dozen employees from their home states.

“I’ve had cars that cost less than what most of the apartments were per month,” said Stephen Ira Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat who started searching for an apartment in Washington as he prepares for his first term as a congressman.

A real estate agent led him to an apartment in Georgetown that would be near his office on Capitol Hill. The small, unfurnished apartment was $2,500 per month.

“It had the potential for triggering claustrophobia,” Mr. Cohen said.

The real estate agent then showed the congressman-elect a furnished Georgetown apartment for $4,100 a month, which Mr. Cohen again decided was too small for the price.

Next they tried Capitol Hill apartments, where Mr. Cohen viewed a one-bedroom, furnished apartment with a den for $3,100 a month. Although it was overpriced by Tennessee standards, he says, it might be his best option.

“It didn’t look like a place I would necessarily want to live, but it was $3,100 a month,” Mr. Cohen said. “I’m not one who needs a lot of creature comforts.”

Back in his home state, he estimated similar apartments would cost one-third to one-fourth as much.

One of Mr. Cohen’s staff members is considering renting a “walk-down basement” in someone else’s home in the range of $600 to $800 per month, he said.

“It’s going to be difficult for them as well,” Mr. Cohen said about his congressional staff.

“It’s not cheap to serve your country.”

Salaries for congressmen in the term ending this month were $165,200 per year.

Every two years after congressional elections, real estate agents in the Washington area see what they call a “blip” of new lawmakers and their staffs searching for housing.

This year, the blip is about 37 percent bigger than the last federal election in 2004, when 38 lawmakers joined Congress.

“We get calls after every election,” said Michael Frias, office manager for John C. Formant Real Estate, which sells and rents homes in the Capitol Hill area. “We seem to be busier this year than in the past.”

Real estate agents say they have noticed a difference between the willingness of representatives and senators to buy homes rather than rent. Representatives, who serve two-year terms, prefer apartments. Senators, who serve six-year terms, more often buy houses.

Among representatives, “their term is so short, the financial commitment is too high,” said Joel Truitt, president of Joel Truitt Management, a real estate management company on Capitol Hill for 34 years. “We get rental inquiries up through the second term, then they realize they are probably more of a real estate fixture, then they buy.”

When they arrive in Washington, representatives normally seek “efficiencies, one-bedrooms, usually the least expensive thing they can find,” Mr. Truitt said. “Staffers will often share places to keep their costs down.”

Real estate agents say the number of lawmakers moving out of town after losing an election has never matched the number of winning politicians moving to Washington.

“People who have lost office for the most part stay in town and they go into the private sector, so there isn’t too much of a turnaround,” said Judi Seiden, associate broker for Prudential Carruthers Realtors in the District.

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