On his way out of Congress, Rep. Jason Chaffetz gave many District residents another reason to gripe Tuesday when he called for members of Congress to receive a housing stipend of up to $30,000 a year.
Chaffetz (R-Utah), who chaired the committee that has oversight of the nation’s capital, said federal lawmakers have trouble stretching their $174,000 salaries to cover housing in Washington, which he called “one of the most expensive places in the world,” and homes in their congressional districts.
“I really do believe Congress would be much better served if there was a housing allowance for members of Congress,” Chaffetz told The Hill, which first reported his stipend proposal. “In today’s climate, nobody’s going to suggest or vote for a pay raise. But you shouldn’t have to be among the wealthiest of Americans to serve properly in Congress.”
The idea lit up Twitter as people who think members of Congress are paid plenty, thank you very much, recalled Chaffetz’s comment earlier this year that low-income people could afford their own health care if they would scale back spending on things such as “that new iPhone they just love.”
“Chaffetz makes $175K/yr, wants extra $2500 for housing stipend. But others need to evaluate if they can afford the luxury of an iPhone? Ok!” tweeted Adam Best of Austin.
As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz, who is retiring this week, tried to reverse the District’s assisted-suicide law, opposed its legalization of marijuana, and suggested lopping off part of D.C. and folding it into Maryland. He also pushed to relocate federal agencies outside the District.
Some city leaders were irked by Chaffetz’s habit of sleeping on a cot in his Capitol Hill office while in Washington, saying that the choice left him few opportunities to get to know the city and the wishes of its citizens.
Chaffetz has plenty of evidence for his claim that D.C. housing is often unaffordable. Nearly 1 in 5 homes sold in the first 10 months of 2015 went for more than $1 million. A person needs to make $119,000 to rent a two-bedroom apartment in the city, according to a recent study, and entire neighborhoods have shifted from gritty to grand over the past two decades as gentrification has swept through.
A Roll Call reporter pointed out that months before he left Congress in 2014, Rep. James P. Moran, a Democrat who represented Northern Virginia for more than two decades, also called for housing subsidies for struggling lawmakers.
His proposal would have applied to any lawmaker living at least 50 miles from the nation’s capital and would have amounted to $25 per day that Congress is in session, or about $2,800 a year.
Cheryl Cort, policy director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said Chaffetz’s suggestion is an important reminder that it is tough even for well-paid workers to live in Washington, let alone those who make a fraction of what a federal lawmaker earns.
“D.C. housing prices are not only unaffordable for very low-income people,” she said. “This is creeping up the income ladder, so middle-income people are also struggling to find housing they can afford in the city.”