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A Member of the House Who Rents Out Rooms
Among her colleagues, Representative Carolyn B. Maloney is known as a fiery liberal from Manhattan, a rebel and a bit of a showman (she once appeared on the House floor in a burqa to draw attention to the mistreatment of women in Afghanistan).
She is also known as something else: a landlady.
Slightly more than six years ago, Ms. Maloney, a Democrat from the Upper East Side, bought for $1.5 million a newly constructed town house in Southeast Washington near the Capitol and across the street from a small park.
Ever since, Ms. Maloney has been renting out rooms in the three-story, red-brick house to her colleagues on the Hill, where there is frequently a need for affordable living space among lawmakers, who must split their time between Washington and their districts.
Ms. Maloney did not set out to be a landlady. For years after first arriving in Congress in 1993, Ms. Maloney did what many other lawmakers in Washington do: she found herself a small one-bedroom apartment to live in during the week while Congress was in session.
But eventually Ms. Maloney — who was accustomed to a buzz of activity in her home in Manhattan, with a husband, two daughters and a cat — grew weary of coming back to an empty apartment in Washington after long and relentlessly busy days on Capitol Hill.
“It was very, very lonely,” Ms. Maloney said. (Her husband, Clifton Maloney, an investment banker and an experienced mountain climber, died at 71 in 2009 while descending from a peak in the Himalayas.)
Now, Ms. Maloney has one of the best-known residences on Capitol Hill, a kind of sorority house of four Democratic women who are given to caucusing late at night over bowls of popcorn about challenges at home and at work.
“I have a friend who used to write for ‘Sex and the City,’ and she wanted to interview us for a sitcom or something,” Ms. Maloney recalled with amusement. “But that is not us and it was not the image that we want to portray.”
Comparable living arrangements for legislators include a notoriously run-down house on D Street that has for decades served as a kind of dormitory for a parade of congressmen and senators.
Its current residents include two of the most ambitious members of the Senate, Charles E. Schumer of New York and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, who are both said to be quietly positioning themselves to replace the Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada.
Ms. Maloney’s neo-Victorian home, where a room runs tenants about $1,100 a month, is nothing like the D Street house.
It is a neat house with plantation shutters, hardwood floors, Oriental rugs and framed pictures, including a 1972 Life magazine cover of Bella Abzug, the pioneering congresswoman, under the headline “Women in Politics. How Are They Doing? Where Are They Going?”
Ms. Maloney lives in the master suite on the top floor, where there is an office down the hall from her bedroom.
The second floor — which has two bedrooms with their own bathrooms, as well as a shared laundry room — is occupied by Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, and Representative Terri A. Sewell of Alabama, a Democrat who was first elected last year.
A basement apartment is rented by Representative Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, another freshman Democrat.
Ms. Maloney is not a traditional landlord. She does not advertise. (When she began looking for tenants a few years back, she simply went to an orientation held for spouses of newly elected members and announced that she had rooms available for rent.) Nor does she ask for personal references, run credit checks or require security deposits.
Mostly, Ms. Maloney is interested in gauging whether a person will fit in with the group living in the house. She has never rented to a man or a Republican, but says she is open to it if the right candidate came along.
“I wouldn’t want to discriminate against men,” she said. “And I would try to be open to a Republican. But right now, Congress is so partisan.”
For the women who live there, the house is more than just a place to stay. Ms. Sewell recalled many occasions when her housemates would simply talk with her as she figured out, say, what Congressional staff members she should hire.
“The camaraderie in the house is very special,” Ms. Sewell said. “We find that bonding over popcorn is especially helpful.”
Representative Kathy Hochul, a Democrat from the Buffalo area who was a guest there briefly, also recalled how the women in the house helped ease her transition into Congress with advice on matters like what committees she should try to get on.
“It was a fascinating place,” said Ms. Hochul, who slept on a bed in Ms. Maloney’s office on the third floor after starting in Congress last year before eventually finding her own place.
Ms. Hochul disagreed with her former landlady in one respect: “I always felt that we could make a reality show: ‘The Real Congresswomen of D.C.’ It would be a real snapshot.”