Affordable housing advocates will be keeping a close eye on several key election races Tuesday.

The one raising the most concern for the low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) industry is the tightly contested Senate race in Kansas between Republican incumbent Pat Roberts and independent challenger Greg Orman.

“Sen. Roberts is the lead Republican co-sponsor of our LIHTC fixed-rate legislation with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash),” says David Gasson, executive director of the Housing Advisory Group and vice president of Boston Capital. “Sen. Roberts has been the strongest supporter of the LIHTC on the Republican side and picked up the mantel of lead co-sponsor when Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) retired in 2013.”

Aside from Roberts, the industry’s strongest Senate Finance Committee advocates on the Republican side are Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho and Johnny Isakson of Georgia, according to Gasson.  “A loss for Sen. Roberts would leave us with a very short bench on the Finance Committee at a time when the Republicans could very well be in the majority and dictating the agenda on tax issues including reform of the code,” he says.

Bob Moss, principal and national director of governmental affairs at CohnReznick, also cites the Kansas Senate race as one of the most significant for affordable housing.

“It appears the battle will be won or lost for this election in western Kansas, where Tea Party advocates are against big government spending and farm subsidies and may be more inclined to vote for the independent,” he says.

If Sen. Roberts is defeated, it would be a loss for affordable housing and would redirect advocacy efforts toward other members of the committee like Sens. Crapo, Isakson, and Rob Portman of Ohio, according to Moss.

“The overall issue of the Senate Republicans taking control of the majority has less impact on us on the tax side because Sen. Orrin Hatch, currently the ranking member on the Finance Committee, has been a longtime supporter of the housing credit,” Moss says. “He remarked to me last year that he ‘had not seen any other industry as visible on Capitol Hill as the affordable housing industry.’ We may see two new Republican members on this committee to educate, and Sen. Hatch’s support will be very important to us.”

If Republicans capture the seats needed to reclaim the Senate majority that could position Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama to become chair of the Banking Committee again, adds Gasson.

That’s notable because Shelby has not been known as a strong supporter of the Community Reinvestment Act and other housing issues under the committee’s jurisdiction, raising another challenge for the affordable housing industry.

While the tight Kansas race sits on the “knife’s edge,” there are several others that appear to be very close as well, says Peter Lawrence, director of public policy and government affairs at Novogradac & Co. Races in Iowa, New Hampshire, and North Carolina were running about even, and their results could determine whether Republicans take the Senate.

“New Hampshire and North Carolina—they will be the first indications,” Lawrence says. “If Republicans take those seats, they can predict a very good night.”

All the races are going to make a difference to the affordable housing industry, adds Rick Lazio, former Congressman from New York and current head of the affordable housing and housing finance practice at the Jones Walker law firm.

“They will spell who holds the gavel, and that will determine what hearings are held, what the agenda is, and what largely gets to the floor of the House and Senate,” Lazio says.

Three more races to watch:

  • Kansas 2nd Congressional District—Lynn Jenkins, the Republican incumbent, is in a battle with Democratic challenger Margie Wakefield for the Topeka-area seat. “Congresswoman Jenkins sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and is a strong advocate of the LIHTC program, voicing her support for the program during committee deliberations on Chairman Dave Camp's tax reform discussion draft,” Gasson says. “In addition to her role on the tax writing committee, she is a member of the House Republican leadership as vice chair of the House Republican Conference, giving the LIHTC a strong voice in the House leadership.”
  • Louisiana Senate—Democrat Mary Landrieu is in a fierce battle to keep her seat from two Republican challengers, including Bill Cassidy. Landrieu has been very involved in affordable housing issues in her state as it recovers from Hurricane Katrina. However, this race is also notable because there’s a good chance the winner won’t be determined on election night, says Novogradac’s Lawrence. It will likely go to a runoff. A runoff is also predicted for the Senate race in Georgia between Democrat Michelle Nunn and Republican David Perdue. If there is a runoff, a winner wouldn’t be known until January. “The bottom line is we may not know for quite some time which party will be in control due to runoffs in the races in Georgia and Louisiana, where the campaign TV commercials may be running until Jan. 6,” Moss says. “In the meantime, the lame duck session starts Nov. 12, and our focus will be on extenders action, including a 9 percent fixed housing credit rate for 2015.”
  • West Virginia Senate—U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito is the Republican nominee, and Natalie Tennant, secretary of state, is the Democratic nominee. This may not be a bellwether race, but Lazio cites it as one to watch because Capito has been on the House Committee on Financial Services, serving on its Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance and chairing the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit. “She would walk into the Senate and have solid knowledge of housing issues,” Lazio says. “She’s smart, substantive, and tough.”

Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF.