Last fall, Speaker Nancy Pelosi moved her district office into the new federal building in San Francisco. The move quadrupled the rent she pays, and her new $18,736 monthly bill is almost double the next-highest rental paid by a Member of the House.
A database assembled by the Sunlight Foundation in cooperation with Roll Call provides new insight into Congressional spending on district office rents. Not surprisingly, Members from large urban districts with the highest property values are paying the most for district office rental, particularly New Yorkarea Members.
But even in these high-rent districts, Pelosi’s new digs blow away the competition.
The next highest monthly office rent belongs to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D), who occupies an office in a federal building in Manhattan’s trendy SoHo neighborhood for just under $10,600. Rep. José Serrano (D) paid $10,350 a month last year for an office in the Bronx, but he recently moved into a new building where the first month’s rent was only $9,583, his spokesman said Friday.
Democratic Reps. Doris Matsui (Sacramento), Stephen Lynch (Boston) and Diane Watson (Los Angeles) all pay $9,000 to $10,000 a month for district offices.
Pelosi’s spokesman said the high price of the Speaker’s new office is partly due to her need for additional space — she had been in her prior office for more than 20 years — and new security needs that go along with being the Speaker of the House.
“San Francisco is one of the most densely populated cities in the country and, of course, office space rents are some of the highest, on average, in the country,” said Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s press secretary.
“After being based in the Burton Federal Building for over 20 years, we were no longer able to meet the needs of San Franciscans in the existing space. The new office space is 3,075 square feet, nearly a third larger than the old space, which was of inadequate size. Additionally, the new building is more centrally located, right off of Market Street, which allows for easier access for constituents via public transportation,” Hammill said. Pelosi’s old office was about a half mile away, near San Francisco’s city hall.
Hammill added: “As Speaker, the security needs are different. The new San Francisco Federal Building offers enhanced security features, which were a major factor in the decision to move offices.”
[IMGCAP(1)]The new federal building is also an award-winning “green” design, “consuming less than half the power of a standard office tower, saving taxpayer funds on utility costs,” Hammill said.
Clearly, serving as Speaker carries additional costs. In 2006, when Republican Rep. Dennis Hastert was still Speaker of the House, he paid $4,300 a month for a district office in the little northern Illinois town of Dixon, while Republican Rep. Don Manzullo was paying $2,600 for an office in Rockford — a much larger city about 50 miles away and closer to Chicago — and $2,200 for a second office in Crystal Lake, which is essentially a Chicago suburb. Manzullo has since moved to a smaller, cheaper office in Crystal Lake. Hastert’s two other district offices, combined, cost less than $1,000 a month.
House Members’ district office rent is paid out of their official office accounts, called the Members’ Representational Allowances. Each Member operates under an allowance based on a formula that takes into account the distance of the district from Washington, D.C., and real estate values in the district.
When Members have their offices in federal buildings, as Pelosi does, the payments are made to the General Services Administration, which is the government’s property manager.
Outside of the nation’s big cities, some Members of Congress spend less for office rent than some Congressional interns pay to live in D.C.-area group houses.
Rep. Heath Shuler appears to be paying the lowest rent in Congress: $400 per month to Buncombe County for an office in Asheville, N.C.
The Democrat also has two other district offices, but House disbursement records indicate no payment for either of them.
Under House rules, a Member may accept free rent from a state, local or federal government entity, which appears to be the case for at least one of Shuler’s locations.
Shuler’s office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) pays only $1,353 a month for an office owned by the University of Central Florida in Orlando and another $100 for a small office provided by the City of Port Orange.
Democratic Rep. Mark Schauer pays $1,500 for his office in the center of his district along Michigan’s southern border.
Both Schauer and Kosmas occupy space that was previously used by their predecessors in the House.
The Senate’s semiannual financial disclosure reports do not list the rental costs for Senators’ district offices.