U.S. Senate Photographic Studio- rb

Sen. Olympia Snowe’s recent announcement that she will not seek re-election this year delivers a major blow to the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) industry.

For years, she has been the key Republican supporter of the LIHTC program, and her departure raises the question of who will fill her shoes.

“She’s been a strong voice for us on Senate Finance, the tax writing committee that’s in charge of our program,” said Bob Moss, senior vice president and director of origination at Boston Capital. “There’s hasn’t been a time when the credit program has needed a fix that she hasn’t stepped up.”

Moss, who has known Snowe (R-Maine) for 20 years, said her importance to the affordable housing industry can’t be pinned to one event or a single piece of legislation.

“It’s her consistency and accessibility regardless of what the issue was,” he said. “She played all 11 positions on our football team.  You can name a housing legislation that passed, and she was supportive of it.”

Snowe has served three terms in the Senate and would have likely earned a fourth if she had desired.  Instead, she cited partisanship and dysfunction in the Senate as reasons for stepping down.

She joins a number of legislators who will be leaving next year, including Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), another big housing supporter.  At the same time, several key leaders are expected to remain, including Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, who has expressed support for the LIHTC program, said Moss.

The housing credit has enjoyed bipartisan support over its 26 years, but it needed its defenders. That’s why Snowe’s departure is significant.

Barbara Thompson, executive director of the National Council of State Housing Agencies, cited the senator’s steady work on behalf of the LIHTC and tax-exempt bond programs. Most recently, Snowe co-sponsored S. 1989 at the end of last year to make permanent the 9 percent minimum credit rate and to establish a fixed rate for the 4 percent acquisition credit.

“She’s been such a crusader for housing and our programs,” Thompson said. “We will truly miss her leadership and support.”

It would be a wonderful tribute if S. 1989 gets passed, she said.

In 2003, Snowe was key in calling for a much smaller tax cut than proposed by President Bush. That helped lead to a final tax package that eliminated potential threats to the LIHTC program.

“The LIHTC industry provides tremendous benefits to our most vulnerable families and communities by encouraging private investment in rental housing,” Snowe told Affordable Housing Finance that year. “… I am acutely aware of the unique needs of the industry and the importance of crafting a tax package that does not negatively affect the positive work your industry does.”

It’s that kind of support and understanding that’s made Snowe an important ally.

 “Nobody has stepped up like Sen. Snowe has on housing issues coming before the tax credit committee,” added David Gasson, vice president at Boston Capital and executive director of the Housing Advisory Group. “That’s my concern. Who are we going to get to take that role?”

“In the Senate especially we need to have both strong Democrats and Republicans supporting our programs,” he said. “We’ve lost without question our strongest Republican advocate in the Senate.”

Snowe’s departure takes on added weight as Congress is expected to push for major tax changes.

“As we go into tax reform, we will be potentially fighting for our existence in the next Congress,” Gasson said. “The person who has had our back on the Republican side of the aisle is not going to be there.” 

The industry needs to focus on who our new champion will be in the Senate, he said.