Student-run group petitions GW to invest in local economy

Student leaders are pushing GW to invest money in two local banks required to stimulate the local economy, a plan they say will help develop run-down D.C. neighborhoods.

The GW chapter of the Roosevelt Institute is asking the University to invest $250,000 of its cash in community development banks, which would help D.C. residents take out money for student loans, small business plans and affordable housing.

Group leaders will meet with the Finance Division next week to discuss a petition in favor of the plan, which has secured nearly 100 signatures.

GW already has a relationship with six community banks, but University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said GW wasn’t able to comment on a petition it has not yet “formally received.”

Zach Komes, the Roosevelt Institute’s policy chair, said the campaign started when he and Josh Serchen, the group’s financial director, were tasked with finding a way the University could “better interact with the community.”

“We looked at the strategic plan, which calls for increasing GW as a model institutional citizen, and decided this would be a way for us to make sure we’re giving back to the District,” he said.

Komes said the University wouldn’t lose any money from the investment. It would receive interest from the loans, he said, which members of the banks would take out to support small businesses or pay for housing.

The proposal would put money toward two community development banks in D.C., City First Bank and Industrial Bank, which are required by law to give part of their money back to the community. The group’s full proposal states that making these investments would help raise GW’s “public commitment to environmental and social sustainability.”

Komes said he thinks the idea will take off because similar plans have been successful at other schools like Tufts, Georgetown and Duke universities, and added that Georgetown contributed the seed money for City First Bank to first open.

Professor Greg Squires, who chairs the sociology department, said he has worked closely with the group on the proposal since September.

“GW’s financial resources can be utilized to provide access to financial services in communities that have traditionally been underserved, making GW an even more effective partner in efforts to encourage equitable development of the Washington D.C. community,” Squires said.

The group’s petition urges Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz to consider the investment plan. Jacob Quiroz, the Roosevelt Institute’s public relations director, said the petition is a way to show that the idea has sweeping campus support.

“We hope to bring it to the administration and we want to show them it’s a concern for the community,” he said.

Last April, Komes said members of the group met with University President Steven Knapp, who directed them to the financial office. Komes called that a step in the right director for the campaign.

Other student groups, like Fossil Free GW, have tried to work with the finance office on student-led ideas and petitions, but a push for GW to divest from fossil fuel companies has floundered for months.

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