Friday, May 13, 2005

President Bush yesterday intensified his outreach to blacks by calling on Congress to pass a tax credit that would make single-family homes more affordable to minorities.

The president proposed $500 million a year in tax breaks for companies that build affordable homes for middle-class Americans over a five-year period.

“Minority homeownership in America is at an all-time high,” Mr. Bush told the National Association of Realtors at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington.

“We just set a new quarterly record this year of 51.6 percent of minorities owning their own home — 2.3 million minorities own a home,” he said. “We’re halfway toward our goal of over five million by 2010.”

Democrats countered that while minority homeownership is on the rise, the rate of growth has slowed in recent years.

“The rise in homeownership rates that began in the mid-1990s has slowed markedly since early 2001, especially for African-Americans,” said Christian Weller of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, in a report released this week.

“The president often cites increased homeownership rates as a key component of his ‘ownership society,’” Mr. Weller said. “However, a closer look at the housing market exposes the soft underbelly of our economy.”

New home sales skyrocketed by 12 percent in March, the biggest jump in nearly a dozen years, according to the Commerce Department. Sales reached 1.43 million, beating the old record of 1.3 million that was set in October.

The boosting of minority homeownership dovetails with the Republican Party’s aggressive outreach program among blacks. Mr. Bush won 11 percent of the black vote in 2004, a 2 percent increase from what he garnered in 2000.

Republicans are convinced that if they can increase their black support by a few more percentage points, they will be able to keep Democrats out of power at all levels of government. To that end, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has been barnstorming the nation in an effort to enlist black support.

Yesterday, black columnist Joyce King wrote in USA Today that blacks are growing more receptive to the Republicans’ message. She recalled being stunned to see black parishioners in a Dallas church enthusiastically greeting Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas Republican.

“Hutchison isn’t alone when it comes to powerful Republicans who aren’t waiting until election time to reach out to blacks,” Miss King wrote. “Ken Mehlman, the national party chairman, has been especially aggressive in urging African-Americans to consider a return to the ‘party of Lincoln.’”

The topic is expected to receive even more attention later this month with the publication of a book titled “They Think You’re Stupid: Why Democrats Lost Your Vote and What Republicans Must Do to Keep It.”

The book was written by black radio talk show host Herman Cain, who lost a Republican primary election for the U.S. Senate in Georgia last year, and includes a foreword by former Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, a conservative Democrat.

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