For Rent: ‘Bargain’ Apartment, History, Fun

Howard University News Service

Stephen Benson figures he could have charged a lot more than $200 a night to rent his one-bedroom apartment in Cleveland Park to people eager to come to Washington for the inauguration.

“I’m not trying to screw anyone over [financially]; I just want people to have fun in D.C.,” said Benson, 32. “I need the money, so I have to be realistic.”

Benson posted an ad on Inaugurationrent.com and until a week ago thought that no one would take him up on his offer in an inauguration market where a studio apartment in Woodley Park was $650 a night and condominiums in Crystal City and Rosslyn were going for $1,000 a night.

As it turned out, though, two men from Tulsa, Okla., decided that Benson’s apartment was the perfect place to stay while John Zimmerman checked off one item on his “bucket list” of things he must do in his lifetime.

“I’ve seen the videos of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s march all of my life, and for the rest of my life, I’d be able to say I was there for the inauguration of President Obama,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman and Dustin Pina planned to arrive on Sunday, two days before the inauguration. Both voted for President-elect Obama. Zimmerman said he was persuaded by Obama’s pragmatic, common-sense ideas about government and his level-headed approach to solving problems.

“Staunch right-wing Republicans are common in our area,” Zimmerman said. “I’m a liberal Democrat from Oklahoma, which is almost an oxymoron.”

Benson, Pina and Zimmerman’s landlord for the next five days, said he didn’t get swept up in the presidential campaign. Nor, he said, does he mind having to stay at a friend’s house during the inauguration.

“I’m always up for a good time, no matter the excuse,” Benson said. A former naval officer currently working in construction, Benson has been living in Washington for four years. He enjoys DJ-ing as a hobby, organizing monthly parties and traveling to “bizarre places.” He said he has traveled to Brazil, China, Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey.

Benson is comfortable opening his home to strangers. He participates in couch surfing -a service that permits travelers to use his couch instead of a hotel as lodging. His online profile at couchsurfing.com has given him access to thousands of other surfers worldwide.

“I definitely do this for the experience, for spending time with people from all over the world,” Benson said. “Sharing conversation is great.”

Millie Linville of Decatur, Ga., offers her review of Benson’s hospitality on the couch surfing Web site. “It was nice to explore parts of D.C. that I wouldn’t have been privy to had it not been for Stephen’s hospitality,” she said. “He is an excellent host.”

Benson is charging the men from Tulsa because he needs the money. A house he owns in Florida is attracting many winter rentals.

Benson said some of his friends believe his inauguration-week rental is “kinda crazy.” But Benson figures that’s right in step with the next few days in Washington.

“It’s gonna be nuts,” he said.