EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt paid just $50 a night to rent a room in a condo in Capitol Hill which is co-owned by the wife of a prominent lobbyist, according to reporting from Bloomberg and ABC News. The unusual deal, which allowed Pruitt to pay only for the nights he actually spent in the room — mere blocks from his office — appears to be well below what he would have paid in comparable or worse locations. Other apartments in the same building rented for $5,000 a month, according to ABC News.
Pruitt’s rental agreement for the room was reached with an LLC co-owned by Vicki Hart, a health industry lobbyist. Hart’s husband, J. Steven Hart, is chairman of Williams & Jensen, a prominent lobbying firm whose clients include major EPA-regulated energy companies including Exxon Mobil and Cheniere Energy. The firm’s website notes that he has been named “one of Washington’s top lobbyists” by Washingtonian and The Hill.
ABC News reported on Friday that Pruitt’s adult daughter used a second room in the same condo during her Trump administration White House internship last year — apparently contradicting initial clams made by the EPA to the network. The story did not indicate how much — if anything — the LLC charged for that room.
According to Inside Airbnb, a website that tracks Airbnb listings, the average price for a private room in Washington, D.C. is about $113 per night. Even a shared room would cost an average of $111. A ThinkProgress review of room rates at Motel 6 (the company that claims “clean, comfortable rooms at the lowest price of any national chain”) locations in the city found that its in-city location ranged between $79.99 and $104.99 for a night. Only the chain’s Odenton, Maryland, location — more than 28 miles from the EPA headquarters and about an hour’s drive on a good day — was priced in the $50-a-night range.
Moreover, the District of Columbia spends significantly more than that per night to house its homeless families when it runs out of shelter space. A 2014 Washington Post report noted that the city’s government, which guarantees shelter for all residents in times of frigid weather, noted that some residents were housed at a Howard Johnson’s in Cheverly, Maryland, outside of the D.C. line. The hotel’s general manager confirmed that the room cost for each family was in the ballpark of $100 per night. A 2016 Washington Post story included a similar cost figure: “It cots the city nearly $100 a day, or about $3,000 a month, to house and feed a family of four in the shelter motels.” Families housed in District hotels cost the city roughly the same as those in Maryland, according to reports.
According to the website for the District of Columbia Housing Authority, which helps provide affordable housing to low- and moderate-income families in D.C. — nowhere near the six-figure salary Pruitt earns as EPA administrator — even a zero-bedroom (studio or efficiency) location on Capitol Hill would cost $2,422 without utilities, or more than $78 per night.
The EPA ethics counsel told Bloomberg that Pruitt’s deal was routine and not something that “causes us concern.”