Economic pains hurt at least one member of congress


When news surfaced that Rep. Laura Richardson had lost her home through foreclosure, the Long Beach, Calif., Democrat blamed the problem on her year-long rocket ship rise from city councilwoman to assembly member to congresswoman and the crumbling real estate market.

"I understand that these homeownership issues are a reflection of what many Americans are going through as they fight to keep their homes and to remain financially stable," she said in a news release.

But while the foreclosure of the two-story Sacramento home she bought shortly after being elected to the Assembly in 2006 may have been the first time she lost a house, it was not the first time Richardson had fallen behind on her payments. It continued a pattern Richardson started eight years ago.

Since then, the homes she still owns in San Pedro, where her mother lives, and Long Beach have fallen into default six times. The amount she owed ranged from $5,742 to almost $20,000, according to documents on file with Los Angeles County.

"She has this habit of missing payments and then trying to catch up instead of doing it monthly," said Verla Saylor, who sold Richardson the Long Beach house and carried a second mortgage.

The defaults have come at a quick pace lately, five in the last 13 months and the most recent March 28. The five defaults totaled nearly $71,000. During much of that time, Richardson was bankrolling her political career, lending her campaigns for Congress and Assembly a total of $177,500.

Although candidates sometimes use their home equity to help finance campaigns, experts couldn't remember anyone losing their house over it. "It's very surprising a member of Congress would allow it to happen," said Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.

"It's also very embarrassing. That's an understatement."

Richardson won the Long Beach council election in 2000 and worked for then California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante until she won the Assembly seat in 2006, lending her campaign $100,000, which eventually was paid back to her.

She barely had time to get a good meal in Sacramento before Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald died in April, 2007.

In August 2007, she won a special election for the seat, this time lending her campaign $77,500.

News of Richardson's troubles with the Sacramento house was first reported this month by Capitol Weekly.

Not only has Richardson missed house payments, but she is behind on her property taxes, had a lien placed on her Sacramento house because of an unpaid utility bill and angered her neighbors by not keeping up her home. Many state legislators and members of Congress have the added expense of needing two places to live, one in their district and one in Sacramento or Washington. California lawmakers receive a per diem of $170 to defray the costs, in addition to their salary. Legislators in both capitals often will share a house or apartment in order to keep the costs down.

Despite her payment problems, a subject that has become a favorite in the political blogosphere, Richardson has few worries about Tuesday's Democratic primary, where she faces two relative unknowns. The 37th District is so solidly Democratic &

it went 74 percent for John Kerry in the last presidential election &

that no Republicans are running for the seat.

"She has a couple years to let it be forgotten and settle whatever problems are still alive," said Gary Jacobson, a University of California, San Diego, political science professor and expert on congressional elections. "And assuming she does so, she'll probably be all right."

Nevertheless, Richardson, who bought the house in early 2007 for $535,000 and owed about $9,000 in property taxes, lost the 3-bedroom Sacramento house at a public auction May 7 when it sold for $388,000 to James York, owner of Red Rock Mortgage. Since she has moved on to Congress, Richardson doesn't have a mortgage to worry about there. She's renting.

Share This Story