Monday March 27, 2023, wasn't a normal day for Missoula City Council. Its agenda that evening had unusual item to discuss: a bill being debated at the state Legislature. Senate Bill 323 was a bipartisan effort to reform rules that some Montana cities impose on small-scale multifamily housing. These rules, known as "exclusionary zoning", ban housing like duplexes and triplexes in specific areas. The effect is to drive up housing prices and keep working- and middle-class families out of wealthier, high-opportunity neighborhoods. SB 323 would have relaxed these restrictions in urban areas. It was backed by affordable housing advocates, business leaders, and groups like Forward Montana, Blackfeet Nation, and the Montana Environmental Information Center. Most of Missoula's legislators supported the bill too. As one Democratic senator said, "This is an important bill that will nudge to government authorities to do infill."

That evening, Missoula's council members wanted to know why. Why was the city, in the middle of a housing crisis, spending taxpayer dollars to try and block pro-housing reforms? Why was the city, which had just signed a "Justice, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion" resolution, fighting to preserve discriminatory zoning rules that Montana Democrats and Republicans both found to be abhorrent? City leadership had no real answer that morning.

Mike Nugent, representing Ward 4, spoke eloquently and forcefully about Missoula's need to change course. He concluded: "We need to get housing built quicker. This message is only going to get louder from the public, and it's something we have to start listening to." After he spoke, a motion was made. Council quickly voted to bypass Mayor Hess and officially end the city's opposition to SB 323. The Legislature heard council's message loud and clear. The very next day SB 323 passed out of its final committee vote with near-unanimous support, and soon it was signed into law.

Mike’s leadership that night is exactly what Missoula needs from our next mayor. We will lose the soul of our community if we don't expand the types of housing available in Missoula's neighborhoods to include townhouses, duplexes, apartments, and community land trusts. Whether they're firefighters, nurses, carpenters, or educators — the people who keep Missoula running shouldn't be forced to live elsewhere.

With due respect to the current mayor, our current trajectory on housing and homelessness is unacceptable. It is wrong to use taxpayer money on a lobbyist for exclusionary zoning. It is wrong to deny Missoula families access to more affordable types of housing. It is wrong to deny seniors options to downsize in the neighborhood where they've lived for decades.

Mike, by contrast, gets it. He understands Missoula must take concrete action to ensure our housing supply keeps up with demand. Right now we're seeing what happens when inventory withers: Rent hikes. Evictions. Brain drain. And a growing underclass of people living out of cars or crashing on couches while they work and search for housing options that our city continues to block. We cannot accept this status quo. We must do better.

It's not a coincidence Mike is supported by Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins, who has helped lead Helena in a new direction in recent years. Mike has demonstrated, not just through his words but through his actions, that he will work to build a stronger and more inclusive future for our community. That's the Missoula I want my kids to grow up in. And that's why I am proud to support Mike Nugent for our next mayor.

Danny Tenenbaum teaches preschool and is the former State Representative for House District 95.

Mike Nugent


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