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Scandals Hit Members Where They Live

UPDATE 2:35 PM: After generally refusing to address the Times' questions, Rangel held a press conference today on what he called a "puzzling" story and released a lengthy statement strongly denying that there is anything inappropriate about his housing situation. Rangel's full statement is now appended to the end of this item.

ORIGINAL POST: We're all familiar with the usual categories of congressional scandal like "bribery" and "affairs," but perhaps we should add another bugeoning avenue for potential wrongdoing to the pantheon -- cheap rent.

The New York Times has a story today on the living arrangements of Rep. Charles Rangel (D), the longtime powerhouse in Empire State politics who chairs the Ways and Means Committee. Rangel rents four apartments in a fancy Harlem building, three of which he uses as a residence and the other as a campaign office. Because the units are rent-stabilized, Rangel's monthly payments are well below market rates.

The story raises questions about whether it's appropriate for one person to have so many rent-controlled apartments, given that the city's rent laws are designed to help lower-income residents rather than wealthy members of Congress. The report also says state and city regulations require stabilized apartments to be used as a primary residence, not an office. The owner of the Lenox Tower building, the Olnick Organization, has been working to convert many rent-controlled units into market-rate housing, and employees of the company have given Rangel at least $7,000 in campaign contributions since 2004.

Of course, this isn't the first time a lawmaker has been accused of getting a sweetheart deal on rent; in fact, it's not even the first time it's happened in the last month. Just two weeks ago, Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) was forced to answer questions about the basement room he rents on Capitol Hill from a high-profile GOP campaign operative. A complaint has been filed against Coleman with the Senate Ethics Committee. In turn, some Republicans are trying to make hay of the rates paid by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) in a house owned by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), though Miller is obviously not a big campaign contributor or lobbyist.

Congressional residences have been much in the news of late. The mortgage crisis has brought new scrutiny to lawmakers' home loans, and Sens. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) face investigations by the Ethics panel for allegedly receiving preferential mortgage rates from Countrywide Financial Corp. Perhaps the most memorable congressional scandal in recent years -- the saga of ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) -- was sparked not by cheap rent but rather a sweetheart home deal.

Other past controversies include:

-- In 2006, current House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) faced questions for renting an apartment from a lobbyist, though his deal did not appear to be below market rate.

-- In 2003, there was a brief flurry of interest in the news that half-dozen lawmakers lived in a townhouse owned by a religious organization. As with Boehner, their rent payments were not expensive but did not appear to be below market rates.

-- In 2000, the House ethics committee concluded that Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) showed "poor judgement" in her dealings with an African businessman, including accepting free lodging in his Miami condominium.

-- Also in 2000, the House ethics committee issued a letter of reproval to then-Rep. Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) for his relationship with lobbyist Ann Eppard. Shuster was criticized by some watchdog groups for being a frequent overnight guest of Eppard's, the idea being that he was taking a "gift" of free lodging from the lobbyist. The ethics panel concluded that Shuster had paid Eppard rent.

Obviously, the allegations against Rangel are of a familiar strain, though there appears to be no exact precedent for a member allegedly exploiting rent stabilization laws. Republicans are already criticizing Rangel for the story, but it's not clear if or when he'll face any punishment. Unlike in the Senate, the House ethics panel is under no obligation to consider complaints by outside groups, should one try to stir up an investigation of Rangel. It is possible he could face probes by the state or city of New York, given that it's their housing regulations he may have violated.

As for Rangel himself, the NY Times story says the lawmaker called his rental arrangement "a private matter that did not affect his representation of his constituents," before hanging up on the reporter. But if history is any guide, lawmakers' housing deals are anything but "private."

The full statement issued today by Rangel:

I called this press conference to respond to a puzzling article in today's New York Times that was critical of my living arrangements in my hometown of Harlem. The story said I live in a penthouse, and insinuated that I have some sort of sweetheart deal with the landlord. Nothing could be further from the truth.

All you have to do is look at this 50-year-old building to see that there are no penthouses, certainly not my apartment. I pay the maximum legal rent, and in fact, would be violating the law if I paid more.

When my family moved in, apartments were not scarce in Harlem, and rents were relatively low, including those in Lenox Terrace. Because I have not moved the rents have increased only incrementally each year, and therefore have remained low, especially compared to today's "downtown" rentals.

My wife, Alma, and I moved into 40 West about 20 years ago. Our apartment--the same place we live in today--was two units combined into one by the previous occupant, Dr. Eugene Callendar, a prominent minister and community leader. It is where we raised our two children and where our three grandchildren visit with us.

A few years ago, as our family grew, we rented a small unit next door to our apartment, which served as a sort of den and work room for me and as an extra room for our children, and now our grandchildren, to sleep when they visit us.

The office mentioned in the story is a small apartment, which I use for working and to make fund-raising calls. When the apartment was rented about ten years ago, there was no question about whether it was appropriate in view of the fact there were--and still are--other offices in the building.

The main point that I wish to make today is not only that the rents I pay are the maximum allowable by law, but that the units I've rented for close to 20 years are my home. What has been described as a double apartment, is the same apartment it's been even before we moved in; the small unit next door is just another room in our house.

What is described as below market rent is the protection afforded by the New York rent control law to residents like myself from the escalation in market price that is pressing so many of us to leave a community we can no longer afford.

Some people are surprised that in my 78 years I've basically lived in two places, 40 West 135th St, and before that, in a brownstone three blocks away on 132nd Street which was owned by my grandfather and where I was born and lived for more than 50 years. It is for that reason that rents have not increased that much for me. Not because of any sweetheart deal.

I know what it's like in the rental market today: apartments are scarce, rents are high, and some unscrupulous landlords and using under-handed means to evict tenants. For years, I've been fighting them, including owners who have relationships to the owners of this building.

In my role on the Ways and Means Committee, housing has been a top priority. Since 1986, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which I authored, has been responsible for the development of 2 million rental units across the nation, and over 6,500 affordable units in Upper Manhattan alone. This year, I am working on adjustments to the tax code to expand the credits by 10 percent.

I am grateful that the GI Bill provided me--a poor high school dropout from Lenox Avenue--with the education to become a lawyer and to eventually make my way to Congress where my position on the Ways and Means Committee is allowing me to make a difference in the lives of my constituents, friends and neighbors. Harlem will always be my home.

By Ben Pershing  |  July 11, 2008; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
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If I used the rent control laws to maintain four apartments, I would never have a bad day either. Mr Rangel is about to have his first bad day. These Congress people have gotten too use to the perks, and too slovenly about protecting the Constitution and the American people.

Posted by: Fascist fighter | July 11, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

It disgust me when there is such hypocrisy. Millions of Americans are in danger of losing their home and our elected representatives are taking essentially under the table bribes. Shame on both parties! Doesn't this just show that we need solution outside of the existing parties!

Posted by: Congressional Sweet Deals | July 11, 2008 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Pigs at the trough!

Rangel should pay market rates and require the building owner to designate 4 other units as rent controlled in lieu of Rangel's.

I say strip every single perk from legislators and their staffs. No free parking. No discounted rent. No 1st class flights to anywhere. No free or discounted hotel rooms. No cheap hair cuts. No discounted ciggarettes.

Nothing should be discounted or free in any way to a legislator, their staffs, family, or friends. They should pay full rate for everything the entire time they are in office.

Posted by: JBE | July 11, 2008 1:50 PM | Report abuse

This BS with Congress! CHANGE should be meeker paid, no pension, and dorm room living accommodation provided while working in Washington, and no using your personal wealth to finance your campaign, seriously this is a must! Then maybe we get some people to serve who really are there for the good of the people and not themselves!

Posted by: theaz | July 11, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse

What about a story on those who commute from their Districts almost every day (i.e. PA, NJ, DE, etc.)? Or who sleep in their offices?

Not all of them have additional housing in DC.

Posted by: Former Hill Staffer | July 11, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Are there any honest members of Congress?

It seems that the main objective of elected officials is to get rich off the job.

How is it it costs over $500 million to run for President and the job only pays about $400K?

In beautiful Colonial Beach Virginia it would seem that the former mayor and old school board was on the take. How is it that a job in the Virgnia House of Delegates or the Maryland House pays so little but they all seem to have huge houses?

Posted by: K Blit | July 11, 2008 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Given the articles rundown most members of Congressmen appear to be involved in some level of illegal or questionable activity. Can one consider Congress as a Criminal bad.....if you can do it with total impunity, it must be legal.
Congressman Rangel can do what he wants, because no one can or will do anything to him...That's the meaning of impunity.
Citizens of his district, just keep bending over, you must enjoy it, you've been electing him forever.

Posted by: starryperdun | July 11, 2008 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Ho! Hum! so what else is new,since Democrat
Congressman Charles Rangel has been into all kinds of sleazy dealings every since the Democrat scumbag conned his corrupt way
into Congress now then? OMG so is Rangel
somehow related to both Nancy Pelosi and
Howard Dean and just discovered he is also
related to Chicago Gutter Politics Scumbag
Lying Marxist Socialist Democrat Liberal
Loser Barack Hussein Obama? So what is it
with every black Democrat in Congress,and
any other elected office that they are all
as corrupt and totally crooked just like
Messiah Barack Hussein Obama anyhow?

Posted by: Sandy5274 | July 11, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

What about the federal tax implications of taking subsidized rentals? I would think that, to the extent the rents are below market, there would be a tax incurred (these are not gifts under the Internal Revenue Code). Will WaPo start asking questions?

Posted by: Mike | July 11, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Too bad this jacka$$ cant spell. what is buegeoning? Did he mean burgeoning?

What can you expect from politicians like ours? Why is this man in office is my question?

Posted by: Joe | July 11, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Tell me you're surprised by a liberal sucking off the societal tit. This is inbred; they are entitled. Recall, all you hear is redistribution of "wealth". Not; labor, risk, dedication, liability...... How many "disadvantaged" poor people are being forced to live elsewhere? The irony; they won't care. It is fine if a lib treats his constituents like third world citizens but heaven forbid if Bush only increases spending on social and education programs to their highest level in history. Scum bags like Rangel will sound bite that into the biggest decrease in history and his followers will swallow every word.

Posted by: Robt | July 11, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

This is much ado about nothing. NYTimes notes that "the law does not bar tenants from having more than one rent-stabilized apartment". He and his family have lived there for 20 years and appears to have done nothing wrong, at least from the article.

He isn't renting from a lobbyist and nobody, as far as I can tell, has ever gotten a favor from him because of where he rents.

The three apartments have been combined as one for quite some time.

Where's the corruption?

By my figuring, he's paid close to a million dollars since he's lived there, and doesn't own the unit.

(Personally, I would be in favor of each of the states purchasing property in DC for their Senators and Representatives to have a place to sleep and have their families visit them. It would lessen the financial pressure on them as well as the pressure on the families due to separation (and keep the Reps and Sens out of the Tidal Basin Pool).

Posted by: Capemh | July 11, 2008 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Rangel's rent controlled apt. may be legit but I agree with getting rid of all the perks that are allowed to our politicians.

Find the Time article about the cars they lease and WE pay for. It's ridiculous...monthly payments of over $1000 for a leased car. Rangel was mentioned in this article too.

Make them drive Prius' and really do something proactive for the environment, since they can't seem to get else done in regards to the environment.

I am so sick of these people. Free healthcare for life, housing perks, car perks and WE are being bled dry and surviving by the skin of our teeth!

These people aren't doing crap, so why do we keep putting them back into office?!
FIRE THEIR AZZES, people...don't keep paying them to do nothing!

Posted by: copelli21 | July 11, 2008 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Rangel is a crook! Full stop!

Anyone who has ever tried to get a rent subsadize/stabilized apartment in Manhattan can see right through his lies. To get four of them (one of which is an office) is UNHEARD of! FYI The property owners hire legions of private investigators just to find rent-subsidy abusers like him, kick them out and sue for back-rent! Building doormen and support staff get huge cash rewards just for reporting such abuses. Honest low-income renters who are given subsidized units are constantly worried about losing there units because of the smallest infractions -- this is how heavy handed the real estate companies are. That Rangel could use his apratments so openly is because he is cashing in on his position of poitical privledge. Last time I checked, this was called stealing by the rest of us working class people. Hence he is a crook!

John from SOHA (South of Harlem)

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2008 5:25 PM | Report abuse

Disgusting and shameful. I respected Rangel before this but his blustering and arrogance at today's press conference have really turned me off. Regardless of the legalities (and yes, it IS illegal to maintain a rent-stabilized apt as an office in NYC), it is the height of hypocrisy to go after all developers except the one that's giving you a sweetheart deal--which also happens to have a reputation for forcing out rent-stabilized tenants. Appalling!

Posted by: Astoria | July 11, 2008 5:28 PM | Report abuse

Obama got a sweet deal on his house and the adjacent property. That is a hush, hush issue. Swepy under the rug like eveything he has done that's shady.

Posted by: Ebonyflash | July 11, 2008 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Rangel's actions today at his press conference shows his arrogance. These politicians need to be voted out of office. The powerful have created 2 sets of laws. Those that put us in jail and allow them to do whatever the he11 they want. It's time for wholesale changes in the congress.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2008 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Back during the Primary,folks were angry at Obama about words used to describe folks who appeared angry re the economy situation and how they were responding by clinging totheir guns,etc.I find similar
attitudes in these comments, why are so many folks angry at folks who are trying to make it. As a landlord,it is good to find someone who will look after the property they rent and plus keep it in good condition. This is worth a lower charge to A renter AS Rangel. People need to get a life and learn how to cope in this time of recession in a more kinder and gentler way with all kinds of other
people,rich or poor. Times are hard for all

Posted by: Mamamay | July 12, 2008 12:54 AM | Report abuse

To quote the Chairman: "I don't see anything unfair about it, and I didn't even know it was a deal,".

Sounds like a quote from a major money mogul eh?

A future on Wall Street?

Posted by: Zippy in Annapolis | July 12, 2008 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Yep Democrat Congressman Charles Rangel and
Democrat Senator and Presidential Wannabe
Messiah Barack Hussein Obama and Speaker
Nancy Pelosi are all Charter Members of
The Democrats Culture Of Corruption and
that is one of those Changes that never
Change with the crooked,corrupt,power mad
phony Marxist Socialist Democrat Liberal
Loser Party! Thow them all under the bus!

Posted by: Sandy 5274 | July 12, 2008 10:20 AM | Report abuse

So, this proves Nutso Madame Speaker Looney
Toons Nancy Pelosi and the phony crooked
totally corrupt Democrat Culture of Corruption makes the Republicans look like
ameteurs. And, I agree throw Pelosi,Reid,
Rangel,Obama,and Howard Dean under the
bus. But I would hasten to add that Senator
John McCain needs to also throw former US
Senator and Village Idiot Gramm under the
bus. And I also add throw Obama's Making
Us Speak Spanish and all Illegal Aliens
Under The ICE Bus for Deportation!

Posted by: Ralphinphnx | July 13, 2008 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) was forced to answer questions about the basement room he rents on Capitol Hill from a high-profile GOP campaign operative and he wants to be re-elected. Living in Minnesota, I say "Not this time Norm--it's time for change in Minnesota!" And despite all the GOP garbage being said about Franken this election, the fact is a complaint was in deed filed against Coleman with the Senate Ethics Committee.

Posted by: Concerned Voter | July 13, 2008 5:47 PM | Report abuse

where's any sense of proportion? these are pols after all and it is great that they have to answer for themselves, but compared to what bushco has done, no comparison.

Posted by: Pre AmeriKKKan | July 14, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

How about the big gas guzzling car we give Rangel to drive and the gas we put in it.Talk about Grandchildren,I can't even see mine this summer, it costs me OVER $80.00 to full my tank on my 97 explorer,I don't even have rent control!!!!!!! Let's throw these bums out of office they are refusing to sign a bill to-drill for more oil. Wake up you Dead Heads!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Grandma Shirley | July 14, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

NY City is one of the few places where rent control exists. Most legislators are expected to maintain 2 places to live; one in their home district and one on the hill. Both rents or mortgages go up,just like everyone elses.

If from a wealthy family or district, they may live reasonably well. If not,while in session, they sleep in their offices, in the rooms of other legislator's houses, basement apartments of lobbyists ,or anywhere else they can find in the staggeringly expensive DC area. Personally, I would approve of a "dorm" for congresspeople if for no other reason than I do not want a government of only wealthy people.

Posted by: Sandra Matthews | July 15, 2008 12:06 AM | Report abuse

As a New Yorker, I assure you that no one who lives in "South of Harlem" would ever refer to themselves as "SoHa." Only, a Republican blog planter thinking this made them sound native would use such an alias.

1. The apartment that the Rangels rent in their own name at Lennox Terrace is for their use and their families.

2. It is not "four apartments" - it is a unit that was combined by a previous tenant.

3. The rent paid by the Rangels under their lease agreements with the Olnick Organization were set at the maximum allowable rates that applied to the space in question at the time the leases were signed and have been escalated as the law allows since. The rent being asked for vacant apartments in the same building by the landlord is totally and completely irrelevant under RSA laws.

4. The studio that Rangel rented for his physical convenience as a 79 year old with a creaky body to use as an office has been relinquished by him.

5. The Rangels rented at Lennox Terrace when they couldn't give leases away, and voted with their wallets for the rebirth of Harlem.

6. This post is by a savvy real estate New Yorker who knows Mr. Rangel and his wife, but has not been asked by him or his staff to come to his defense. But, as a war veteran myself, and as a businessman, I can assure you that Mr. Rangel has sacrificed much for his fellow New Yorkers. These are cheap shots being orchestrated by enemies of Mr. Rangel, who include Hedge fund owners and conservative Republicans with a history of targeting African Americans with any political stature or achievement. I refer to Ken Boehm, and those who fund his campaigns against Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, P. Diddy, and the Clintons. anything.

Posted by: BobMorganthau | July 16, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

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