When Arizona Senate candidate Ruben Gallego bought a house near Capitol Hill last year, he claimed the Washington property as his primary residence as part of a special mortgage rate afforded to military veterans.
But Gallego and his wife also say a home they own in Phoenix is their primary residence.
The loan documents for the Washington property, obtained by POLITICO, confirmed he counts D.C. as his primary home even though his campaign maintains he resides in Arizona. Politically, it means the Democratic congressman aiming to take out Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) in a hotly contested race next year may have to explain why he declared he was primarily a resident of the nation’s capital.
Gallego signed terms for a Veterans Affairs-backed loan in which he agreed to “occupy, establish, and use the Property as [the] Borrower’s principal residence within 60 days,” according to the loan document.
The program is designed to provide veterans with favorable loan rates on houses used as primary residences. According to the terms, Gallego was given a $940,000, VA-guaranteed loan in a mortgage market where interest rates have surged. Such loans come with benefits: they allow veterans to put very little or no money down. In addition, rates are typically slightly lower, mortgage insurance fees can be waived and overall loan costs can be lower.
The VA loan was made available to Gallego because of his service as a Marine from 2000 to 2006.
The D.C. home loan came about 11 months after Gallego and his wife Sydney Barron Gallego refinanced their Phoenix home. In that case, the Gallegos signed a deed of trust in which they agreed to make that property their primary residence for one year, the Arizona loan document shows.
Gallego currently takes advantage of a homeowner rebate in Arizona that lowers tax burdens for residents who primarily live in the state, according to his 2022 Maricopa county property tax statement. The campaign said he does not receive a homestead tax credit on his D.C. property. Gallego has not been accused of wrongdoing in filling out the loan documents.
“Ruben’s primary residence is in Arizona,” Hannah Goss, a spokesperson for Gallego, said in a statement. “The VA loan is a benefit that Ruben earned by serving his country as a Marine combat veteran, and he’s well within his right to use it as a residence when he’s doing his job in D.C. It comes with being both a veteran and a congressman who needs to live and work in two places. Ruben expected to face a lot of political attacks in the race, but taking a loan he earned by serving in Iraq isn’t one of them.”
The Gallego campaign said the lender for the VA loan knew that Gallego was a congressman and approved the arrangement knowing how he would be occupying the house.
The campaign also pointed to the VA’s loan benefits guide. In an occupancy section, veterans are instructed to discuss “unusual circumstances of occupancy with the appropriate VA office or submit a description of the circumstances to the VA office for prior approval.”
The campaign declined to provide any documentation related to Gallego doing so.
Asked whether there were exceptions for politicians who live in both Washington and their home states, Terrence Hayes, a VA spokesperson, said he could not comment on individual cases. But he said that requirements to live in the home “are applied equally to all veterans and service members, and there is no exception to the policy based on a veteran’s occupation.”
Gregg Busch, a loan officer at First Savings Mortgage who worked with Gallego on the loan, told POLITICO that he was aware of Gallego’s residency issue and that VA guidelines allow them to approve loans like this. He added that all mortgage servicers, upon buying a loan, put it through quality control.
Residency issues have tripped up candidates before. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), whose wife declared primary residence in California, came under criticism when he ran for Congress in Montana last year.
Gallego initially took out a VA-backed mortgage of more than $500,000 for a house in Phoenix in April 2020 with his then-fiancée Sydney. They signed a document that included a clause that they would occupy and establish the property as their principal residence within 60 days for at least a year, according to the loan document obtained by POLITICO.
Almost a year-and-a-half later, they refinanced the mortgage but this time without the VA guarantee. As part of the paperwork, they both signed the contract that they would make the property their principal residence for at least a year.
Gallego voted in Arizona in the primary and general election last year, according to Maricopa county voting records. The campaign pointed to Arizona state law which says that an Arizonan does not lose residency in the state by frequently traveling for work while employed by the U.S. government like Gallego.
In 2021, Gallego married Barron, who is director of government advocacy at the National Association of Realtors and whose LinkedIn profile says she is based in Washington. The campaign said that the Gallegos, who are expecting their first child together in July, will raise their family in Phoenix.
Gallego and Barron Gallego’s Washington house has four bedrooms and 3.5 bathrooms with hardwood floors, an in-law suite and a detached one-car garage, according to the Zillow listing.
Gallego was born in Chicago and grew up in the city’s working class suburbs before attending Harvard. In the middle of college, he joined the Marines and served a tour in Iraq. He moved to Arizona as he was retiring from the military, working early on during his time there as a Phoenix city councilman’s chief of staff before getting elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2010 and then Congress in 2014. He was previously married to Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego, and they raise a young son growing up in Phoenix.
In his campaign launch video, Gallego said he “will never forget where he came from.”
The text during the first few seconds of his announcement video says “Phoenix, Arizona” as Gallego talks about growing up poor, features b-roll of him making pancakes for his family in his Arizona home and playing with them in the backyard.
The video ends with him pensively looking out at the mountains in his neighborhood in Arizona.