President George W. Bush called his goal of helping 5.5 million minority families buy homes in the next decade “realistic” Tuesday afternoon while speaking in the Media and Public Affairs building. In his first on-campus speech since his inauguration, Bush presented his plan to alleviate a homeownership disparity at a daylong White House Conference on Increasing Minority Homeownership, hosted by GW.
More than 100 students stood across the street behind police caution tape during the speech, some supporting the President and others protesting his administration and the war on Iraq.
Bush announced his goal to increase minority homeownership in June but more clearly defined his strategy Tuesday, calling on government agencies and the private sector to work together to help alleviate a “homeownership gap.”
While almost 75 percent of white Americans own homes, only about 47 percent of Hispanics and blacks own homes, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development report.
Bush called homeownership an “important part of our economic vitality,” noting that his goal will stimulate the economy by more than $256 billion.
“This project not only is good for the soul of the country, it’s good for the pocketbook of the country, as well,” Bush told the audience of bankers and real estate and business leaders in the Jack Morton Auditorium. GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and a handful of student leaders and volunteers were also in attendance.
Though the speech was not open to the public, students and faculty lined up outside the MPA building on their way to class as Secret Service officials searched each person entering the building. Some students said they were up to 30 minutes late for class.
Students from the College Democrats, Progressive Student Union and Students Against War in Iraq gathered outside the Marvin Center prior to Bush’s 1:30 p.m. appearance, holding signs displaying slogans such as “Drop Bush, Not Bombs” and “One Vietnam is Enough, No War in Iraq.”
“I think it’s important that people demonstrate we’re not all behind the war,” freshman SAWI member Tim Kaldas said. “We’re just trying to show the president that he doesn’t have the country behind him on this one.”
College Republicans, Navy ROTC members and other students supporting Bush stood in front of Lisner Auditorium around the hippo statue. One student held a sign reading “Go Bush.”
“It’s important to stand by our president,” sophomore CR member Ed Buckley said. “These are difficult times and . his leadership is appreciated.”
Both groups chanted across H Street at each other, with the CDs and others yelling, “We’re not against the country, we are against the war.”
The CRs group responded with shouts of “Swim to Cuba” and “More soap, less stink.”
Some students criticized others for protesting.
“I think this just goes to show how stupid the liberals on this campus are, they just have to make a scene,” sophomore CR member Mark Dexter said. “We really should be representing our school better and act(ing) with a bit more decor when our president is on campus.”
“This is what going to GW is all about,” junior SAWI member Chace Wessling said.
The conference, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing, held its morning session in the Marvin Center conference room before moving to the Jack Morton Auditorium.
The President presented his plan to alleviate what he called the greatest barriers to owning a home – excessive down payments and lack of affordable housing, information and federal financing.
The plan includes grants for local governments to help first-time home buyers, $2 billion in tax credits to home builders, $35 million for organizations that educate home buyers and a call to the U.S. lending industry to provide vouchers to help families buy homes.
“We need to have more housing for the poor, but (Bush is) not doing enough for the poor,” said freshman Michael Strong, who wore a CDs T-shirt that read “Trimming the Bush and taking back the House.”
Despite some student complaints that Bush’s visit was a distraction and made them late for class, Trachtenberg said, “every once in a while you have to make an accommodation for the president.”
He called the Bush visit “standard fare for GW,” noting that it “tells you something about the rhythm of the campus.”
Tuesday’s visit was the second time Bush spoke at GW in two years. Then President-elect Bush, along with then Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, spoke at a Smith Center ceremony honoring U.S. the day before inauguration in January 2001.
University Vice President for Public Safety and Emergency Management John Petrie said that GW did not encounter any security problems and that the Secret Service conducted two walk-throughs of the building prior to Tuesday.
-Kate Stepan contributed to this report