Katie Porter faces criticism over her home at UC Irvine

The high cost of housing in Orange County created an obstacle for UC Irvine when it sought to recruit talented faculty and administrators. So state university leaders created a nonprofit that built a sprawling suburban development, dubbed University Hills, criss-crossed by nature trails, swept by Pacific Ocean breezes and endowed with some of the best schools K -12 of the state.

Homes there are sold below market price, a boon for college students who could not otherwise afford to live in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country. But there is a cost: strict rules on resales mean buyers will never see a fraction of the capital gains compared to if they had bought and sold on the open market.

Democratic Rep. Katie Porter bought a home in the college community in 2011 when she started teaching at UC Irvine School of Law. She and her family have continued to live there since she was elected to Congress four years ago and took unpaid leave from college. Now her opponent in the November election is calling Porter’s continued residency in faculty housing an “insider deal” because she no longer teaches at the UCI. Porter’s housing arrangement was first reported in an Associated Press article.

“Porter sits on the House Oversight Committee. Turns out the oversight has to be on his house,” said Scott Baugh, a former GOP state lawmaker. “Insider stuff like this is what’s wrong with Congress. She should have given up that taxpayer-subsidized housing assistance four years ago when she was elected.

Porter’s campaign responded that she remains an unpaid employee of the university and abides by its rules regarding who can live in faculty housing.

“As the UCI has recognized, professors ‘on approved unpaid leave’ remain UCI employees and ‘may maintain their residence,'” campaign spokesman Jordan Wong said. “Like other UCI faculty members who have taken sabbaticals, fellowships, and visiting professors, Rep. Porter requested and was granted leave without pay, in accordance with university policy.”

Here’s what voters need to know about Porter’s housing situation.

Where does Porter live?

University Hills, a housing estate built for full-time faculty and other eligible employees that includes 1,226 homes for sale and 384 rental apartments. The development was created because the high cost of housing in Orange County made it difficult for UC Irvine to recruit. About two-thirds of the university’s faculty live on campus.

Academic institutions in expensive housing markets across the country have various programs to help faculty members buy homes, often with attractive mortgage packages. Some have faculty accommodations like UC Irvine, but University Hills, at more than 300 acres, is particularly expansive with plenty of amenities.

What sets development apart?

Homes are sold at below-market prices determined by the Irvine Campus Housing Authority, a nonprofit organization established in the 1980s by regents of the University of California. Landlords do not own their lots and pay monthly ground lease fees, neighborhood association dues, and property taxes. Porter’s land and landlord fees run a few hundred dollars a month, Wong said.

The housing authority states that any house that is sold must be offered to faculty, staff or the university, according to a document from the housing authority. Resale prices are capped well below market prices to help professors and other university buyers, and to prevent the purchase of University Hills homes as “speculative investment vehicles,” the document says.

Buyers can get mortgages from pre-approved lenders or UC’s Office of Lending Programs, which provides financing for up to 90% of the cost of a home and does not charge points or fees. lender. (University Hills buyers pay traditional closing costs.)

Representative Katie Porter speaks during an interview at her home in Irvine in December 2020.

(Mark Z. Barabak/Los Angeles Times)

What are the specifics of Porter’s situation?

Porter was recruited by UC Irvine School of Law in 2009. She put herself on a waiting list for housing and delayed entering the school until housing became available in 2011. She bought a four-bedroom house that year for $522,645, according to the housing authority. At the time, the median home value in Irvine was $656,800, according to the U.S. Census.

Porter’s home was appraised by the housing authority in January 2021 with a maximum resale price of $659,369, an increase of $136,724 from the purchase price. In July, the median home price in Irvine was nearly $1.4 million, according to Redfin.
“Resale price limits prevent University Hills homes from being used as speculative investment vehicles,” the housing authority document says. “For college-associated individuals whose primary objective in purchasing real estate is capital gain, it is strongly recommended that they consider purchasing a home in the general unrestricted market rather than at University Hills.”

Didn’t Porter leave the faculty of the UCI?

Porter was elected to Congress in 2018 and took office in January 2019.

The congresswoman took unpaid leave from UC Irvine but is still an employee, making her eligible to stay in the housing, university spokesman Tom Vasich said. Employees on these leaves must reapply each year, and the decision whether or not to extend the leave is at the discretion of the university management team.

In addition to employees on unpaid leave, other people who live at University Hills but do not teach include retired faculty members and spouses of deceased faculty members.

Did Porter get any special treatment?

Vasich said Porter’s situation is unique because the university has never had a faculty member elected to Congress before. However, he said that over the past decade eight other faculty members have taken unpaid leave of three years or more.

Is it appropriate for Porter to keep the accommodation?

There are hundreds of faculty and staff on the waiting list to buy or rent at University Hills. The list includes university employees who have since purchased homes and are therefore no longer eligible to buy in the community, as well as people looking for condos, townhouses and other types of housing that differ Porter’s four-bedroom home, Vasich said, so it’s unclear how many are waiting for a home like the congresswoman’s.

Porter’s campaign, when asked if she was denying a college employee affordable housing by choosing to stay in her house, said she was following college rules.

“Consistent with long-standing university policy, all faculty on unpaid leave approved for sabbaticals, fellowships, and visiting professors, such as Rep. Porter, as well as professors emeritus, may remain in their accommodations at University Hills,” Wong said.

Porter said if she lost her November race, she would start teaching at UC Irvine again in January. She declined to say what she would do if she remained elected.

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