Shawn Knopp’s decision to run for mayor began while assessing window replacements for Missoula’s senior residents who were looking to sell their homes in what’s become a hot real estate market.
They were selling not because they wanted to move, he said, but rather they could no longer afford the taxes on their property. The last tax assessment conducted by the state saw property values rise and, along with it, the property taxes that come with those higher values.
“It all started about two years ago when they reassessed all the house taxes, the appraisals,” Knopp said. “I went to a lot of elderly people’s homes to give an estimate to fix their windows so they could sell their houses because they couldn’t afford the taxes anymore. I felt it was completely wrong that people were getting taxed out of their homes they’ve been living in for 30 or 40 years.”
Knopp, the project manager for Montana Glass, is one of three candidates challenging incumbent Mayor John Engen for his job as the city’s chief executive. The two other candidates, Jacob Elder and Greg Strandberg, declined to participate in this series of interviews.
But Knopp doesn’t shy away from detailing his platform and explaining why he believes Missoula needs a change. Taxes and affordable housing top his list of priorities.
“I have a son and daughter-in-law in their early- to mid-30s who can’t afford a home in Missoula,” he said. “It’s gotten to a point where true Missoulians are going to have to leave Missoula. I find that disheartening.”
The city has taken steps over the last two years to address Missoula’s housing crunch, including its limited supply of affordable housing. Knopp would continue the city’s efforts to develop city-owned property in partnership with the private sector.
City lots include those on West Broadway, the old downtown library block and several acres in the Midtown district, among others.
“We have a lot of land we’ve bought up,” Knopp said. “Maybe make some incentives for some of the builders to build some affordable housing alongside some of their other projects – give them a tax incentive to build affordable housing.”
Knopp would also partner with Habitat for Humanity.
“I love their mission, where we’re not just handing them a home, they’re having to put so many hours invested in their home. I think that adds pride in ownership when you do that,” he said.
Knopp’s office sits across the street from the Poverello Center. Unlike Habitat for Humanity where “skin in the game” is required for help, Knopp said, the current approach to serving the homeless isn’t helping them over the long run.
He said there were fewer issues when the nonprofit sector – the churches and missions – headed the effort. The city should change course in its approach to the issue, offering a “hand up” rather than a “hand out” he added.
“I see the handouts every day. I don’t feel we’re helping them in any way,” he said. “It never used to be a city or county problem. The churches used to provide that. More of the money raised for that went directly to that instead of the government having to pay people to oversee it.”
While municipal races are considered non-partisan, it doesn’t take long for voters to pin a political affiliation to a candidate. Knopp said he’s chosen the Independent route, saying he doesn’t claim any political affiliations.
He believes politics have become too one-sided, partisan and entrenched.
“I consider myself fiscally conservative. Other than that, I’m right down the middle,” Knopp said. “So much of the world is going hard left and hard right. We need someone down the middle that can pull people back together.”
As Missoula continues to grow and transition to a metropolitan center, leadership has become a deciding factor in this year’s election. With 10 years under his belt as project manager at Montana Glass, Knopp said he’s right for the job.
“My job is to assess the problem, find a solution to the problem and assign the right person to the problem. It’s the right leadership role we need right now,” he said. “I want to do the city right. We need a leadership change, and I want to do what the city residents want, not what my own agenda is.”