We can – and should – reduce poverty through tax reform
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As Congress moves ahead on tax reform, we hear most about the impacts on the middle class.  Rarely do we hear about tax reform’s potential to significantly reduce poverty. Depending on how any final tax bill is written, it could make things significantly worse or significantly better for those struggling at the bottom of the economic ladder to make it to the next rung.

As former Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, I saw firsthand the power of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit—which encourages the development and preservation of affordable housing through public-private partnerships and is now responsible for virtually all new affordable housing in the U.S.—to positively impact millions of families and communities.


Fortunately, the House Republican tax reform bill proposes to retain the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit – and I applaud my colleagues for recognizing its value. But other changes in the House tax bill would reduce the resources available for financing affordable housing under this program by more than half, causing us to lose out on more than a million affordable homes that would have been built at a time when we cannot afford to lose them.

The House tax reform bill eliminates private activity bonds, which include multifamily Housing Bonds – a type of financing that currently makes possible more than half of all affordable apartments in the U.S. It’s not just that the financing is important for these homes – but for financing from Housing Bonds, these homes would not be built. If the House tax bill passes, it will devastate America’s ability to create homes that are affordable to our nation’s families, seniors and veterans.

Thankfully, the Senate tax bill retains Housing Bonds in addition to the Housing Credit, recognizing the importance of a home that families can afford. As congressional Republicans and the administration work towards a compromise on tax reform legislation, I urge my former colleagues to retain the Housing Credit and multifamily Housing Bonds to keep our affordable housing delivery system strong.

Eliminating Housing Bonds would also impact a movement currently underway to replace HUD’s old way of providing homes with the much more successful use of public-private partnerships. HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration has been transforming our nation’s aging, dilapidated public housing stock into more financially stable, healthier housing, relying heavily on the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and Housing Bonds to do so. The Republicans in Congress and HUD Secretary Ben CarsonBenjamin (Ben) Solomon CarsonHUD chief Carson broke law with unauthorized purchases, GAO says Trump immigration rule could displace 55K children from public housing: HUD Harris, House Dems push for mandatory carbon monoxide detectors in public housing MORE are both proponents of this program – which would essentially be ended as we know it by the House tax bill.

The reality is that market-rate housing will always be out of reach for some low-income families, but there are millions for whom an affordable home is the first step to getting ahead, and who will eventually be able to lift themselves out of poverty if given this opportunity. If we want more families to get to a place where they no longer need support from the government, we can’t set one million of them back.

Both the House and Senate bills include many provisions worthy of support – expanding the lower income bracket, increasing the child tax credit and nearly doubling the standard deduction – all of which will help lower-income Americans. But these changes do not outweigh the devastating impact tax reform could have on affordable housing. At a time when the demand for affordable homes far outweighs the supply, we can’t lose tools that are critical to creating affordable housing in every state.

Tax reform has many moving parts, and it’s easy to make one seemingly small change that has unintended but significant consequences. I believe that my colleagues in Congress want an affordable housing system that works to help low-income people to get ahead and reduce poverty. Eliminating Housing Bonds would have the opposite effect, which is why I call on Congress to retain them in any final tax bill. A future filled with the opportunity to escape poverty for millions of our citizens depends on it.

Rick Lazio is a member of the executive committee of the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America's Families and a partner at the Jones Walker law firm. He served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.