Before she was elected to Congress from California in 2018, Katie Porter was a law professor at UC Irvine. She was paid about $250,000 a year for that job but it also came with another significant perk available only to UCI professors. Porter was given the chance to buy a home in University Hills, a development built by UC Irvine which offers homes at substantially below market prices. In order to live there you have to be a full time professor at the school and even so there’s a long wait list for housing. In fact, Porter was originally offered a job at UCI in 2009 but didn’t accept until a house became available in University Hills:

Porter was recruited by UC Irvine’s School of Law in 2009. She joined a housing waiting list and delayed joining the faculty 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.

All of this was perfectly normal up until 2018 when Porter won a seat in Congress. Under university rules, only full time professors or their surviving spouses are supposed to live in University Hills. In Porter’s case, leaving employment at UC Irvine is supposed to trigger a provision which would force her to “pay off her mortgage within months.”

Porter was granted an exception on the grounds that she was on approved leave which meant she was technically still an employee and therefore eligible to live in University Hills. This seems to be an exception intended for professors on sabbatical, not for people who have taken unrelated government jobs with no timeline for returning.

When Porter won reelection in 2020 there was some question whether the university could continue to grant her leave beyond the initial two years. She ultimately got an assist from someone at the university who had donated to her campaign.

Initially, administrators signed off on two separate one-year periods of leave that enabled her to keep her house, documents show. But school officials voiced more concern about the arrangement in the run-up to Porter’s 2020 reelection, emails show.

“Is there any fixed limit on the number of years of leave without pay … One of our administrators mentioned that they seemed to recall a two-year limit,” law school Vice Dean Chris Whytock wrote in a April 2020 email. He added: “Some government service may, of course, last for a number of years.”

Whytock, who donated $500 to Porter’s campaign in 2018, wrote a memo outlining the case for extending Porter’s leave, while suggesting that there are no limits on how long such an arrangement could continue. The plan required the approval of the school’s vice provost, which was granted in 2020, according the the emails.

Whytock did not respond to an email seeking comment.

In a statement, UC Irvine spokesperson Tom Vasich said faculty “on approved leaves without pay remain UCI employees, and they can maintain their home in University Hills.”…

After the AP interviewed Porter, spokesperson Jordan Wong provided an additional comment, stating the congresswoman “had no knowledge of Vice Dean Chris Whytock’s role in researching her request for leave” and “at no point” was in contact with him about it.

You get the picture. Nothing about Porter’s purchase of the home is questionable but her ability to stay there while serving in Congress indefinitely seems a bit dubious. UC Irvine says it’s okay but the process for approving this unique exception seems a bit special.

[UCI spokesman] Vasich said Porter’s situation is unique because the university has never had a member of its faculty elected to Congress before. However, he said that over the last decade, eight other faculty members took unpaid leaves of three years or more.

How many of those people left for other jobs with no timeline for returning to UCI? Notice that he said eight people had taken leave of three years or more. Well, Porter is already approaching four years leave and if she’s re-elected next month her leave will extend to at least six years. How many people in University Hills have ever been granted a six year leave? Eight years? Is there any point at which the university plans to enforce the rules that apply to everyone else who takes a completely different job?

There’s also the question of property taxes. Property tax increases are regulated here in California, which means they creep up slowly from year to year. The only time the value is reassessed is when the home is sold. Still, Porter bought a discount home in 2011 which would currently be worth well over a million dollars if it were on the open market. According to the LA Times, she pays the property taxes but those taxes are based on the sales value and are therefore also substantially below other homes in Irvine, even in 2011. That’s quite a bonus for a member of Congress. And yet her own website makes it sound as if she’s really down with the struggle against high Orange County taxes.

Congresswoman Porter is working hard to save Orange County families money. As one of the only single parents of young children in Congress, she understands firsthand the increasing costs of raising a family in today’s economy. Throughout her time in Congress, she has worked to reverse the unfair state and local taxes (SALT) deduction cap, eliminate unfair tax burdens on single parents, and get the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) functioning for American taxpayers…

For too long, Wall Street bankers have exploited a gap in our tax code called the “carried interest loophole” that allows them to be taxed at a lower rate than all other wage earners. That’s why Congresswoman Porter helped introduce legislation to end this abuse. She also sponsored the Ending Taxpayer Welfare for Oil and Gas Companies Act to stop Big Oil from ripping off taxpayers and sticking them with the cost of cleaning up the pollution they create. Big corporations should not be able to game the tax system at the expense of middle class families who follow the rules.

You’d never know that Rep. Porter is expositing her own UCI loophole and paying taxes at a rate that is likely well below current tax rates in the area. Meanwhile, there is a waiting list of 250 UCI employees (people who actually work there) who are hoping for a chance to buy a home in University Hills. All of this stinks even if it’s technically allowed.

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