As the House and Senate negotiate tax reform, the conversation focuses on two influential groups: the middle class and corporations. But amid the frenzy over itemization, individual and family deductions, and the corporate tax rate, one group of vulnerable Americans has been left out of the conversation: the homeless.

According to newly released HUD data, the U.S. has just witnessed the first rise in homelessness in seven years. As the numbers of homeless Americans reach new highs, over 89,500 in New York and 32,000 in Florida on a given night, Congress could be on the verge of exploding this crisis by eliminating one of the biggest tools to fight it, Housing Bonds.

Housing Bonds enable state governments to provide bond financing and Low Income Housing Tax Credits (Housing Credits) to nonprofit and private developers for housing that might otherwise be impossible to finance. These Housing Bonds and credits engage the private market to build and maintain affordable homes. The elimination of Housing Bonds will mean that half of all affordable residences will become financially unviable and desperately needed construction will slow to a trickle.

Without Housing Bonds, the difficult task of creating housing for the homeless will fall exclusively to cities, states, and the federal government as it did prior to the credit’s invention, when public housing was the only solution to creating homes affordable for low-income and homeless families. If the House and Senate give up these valuable tools and housing production shrinks, hundreds of thousands of homeless Americans will be left out in the cold.

The human costs of homelessness are devastating: homeless children are more likely to be homeless as adults and are more likely to encounter the criminal justice system. Beyond the tragic impacts on those affected, homelessness is also extremely costly for society: shelter costs, medical costs from excessive use of emergency rooms, and the costs of incarceration add up to staggering sums. A recent New York study showed that taxpayers pay $10,000 more for a homeless disabled person’s care in multiple systems than they would pay to provide that person with quality permanent housing and services. The tax bills’ cuts might seem like savings now, but truly will end up costing Americans more.

Today, there are over 3,800 more homeless Americans than a year ago. This problem is not going away. At this point, creating homes that people can actually afford is not a political question. It is a necessity.

Congress must make sure any final tax bill does not make homelessness even worse. To do that, we must save Housing Bonds.

Jaimie Ross is president and CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition. Laura Mascuch is executive director of the Supportive Housing Network of New York.

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