Running for his fifth term as Missoula’s chief executive, Mayor John Engen endured sharp criticism from the other three candidates during the NBC Montana debate on Wednesday evening.

When asked by moderator Maritsa Georgiou what they felt was the most pressing issue facing Missoulians, all four candidates chose housing and homelessness as the top priority.

Mayor Engen defended his policies to the NBC Montana audience.

“We have made tremendous investment in both time, talent and financial resources in addressing the housing crisis that's upon us today,” said Engen. “I opened up the first housing office in the state of Montana. We created the first housing policy in the state of Montana, and but for those policies and but for the investment that we're making through our Affordable Housing Trust Fund, there wouldn't be much light at the end of the tunnel.”

The other candidates responded with withering criticism of Mayor Engen’s policies.

First was Greg Strandberg.

“From the mayor's past previous years of experience, most of the money ends up finding its way into rich developers’ pockets, usually from Florida or some other out of state firm,” said Strandberg. “And then we don't see a lot of affordable housing. We see new fancy condos get built going for $700,000 or something like that. We see new downtown hotels get built for the tourists complete with fancy art galleries. We're seeing all kinds of sculptures being built in parks, but when it comes to really getting the money where it needs to be to support our working classes, and it's just not happening.”

Next, Shawn Knopp.

“This always seems to happen at election time,” said Knopp, who just received the endorsement of the Missoula County Republican Party, despite being a declared Independent. “We spend a ton of money on research, but we're not attacking the problem. We're looking at the problem. We need to invest in Habitat for Humanity we need to invest in our future. We need to get people homes that deserve homes, and this tax and spend has just got to stop.”

Jacob Elder also responded with a challenge to Mayor Engen.

“If the mayor had courage, the mayor would resign, but since he doesn't want to resign, then he shouldn't be reelected,” said Elder. “But again, I'm going to focus on housing. I'm going to get our folks in housing. We're going to try to build our way out of this. There's no other way to it. Now the mayor is using a lot of the ARPA money to build all these subsidized housing. That money was for our recovery. Where is the recovery Mr. Mayor? We're sick and tired of all these empty promises. Be real with your constituents. Enough is enough.”

The municipal primary is September 14, and only two of the four candidates will advance to the general election in November.

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