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Breaking the Ice: Housing sets stage for success, advocate says

Name: Katie Topinka

Title: Legislative director, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency

Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science and international studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison; master’s in public administration, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.

Katie Topinka, legislative director for the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, sees stable housing as a foundation for success. It’s also a visible result of the state agency’s work to help offer a range of housing to low- to moderate-income Minnesotans.

“You really need that foundation to do well in school or to maintain employment or really to be healthy,” Topinka said. “It’s so important and you can see the tangible results of it.”

Topinka, with the agency for five sessions, began working on housing at the height of the foreclosure crisis for then Sen. Herb Kohl and continued focusing on the issue on Sen. Al Franken’s staff.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. I have a 2-year-old daughter, so ask me about my daughter because what parent doesn’t want to talk about their kid? She’s at a really fun age, learning lots of new words and saying funny things.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I read “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond. It’s directly related to housing but it’s really more about what it’s like to be a low-income person living in a city in the United States. It was really eye-opening and pretty heartbreaking so I highly recommend that book. I’m also reading, “We are a Muslim, Please” by Zaiba Malik, a British Muslim journalist who was imprisoned in Bangladesh.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. A big pet peeve is when cars drive slowly in the left lane. My parents live in Wisconsin and we do a lot of trips back and forth. People on [Interstate] 94 between Wisconsin and here just love to hang out in that left lane driving slowly and it bottles everything up so it drives me crazy.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I’m a runner. I try to do a couple of longer races a year. I also like to travel, so when I go to a new city I try to go on a long run to explore the city. That’s something my grandfather always did and he was a distance runner almost until he died at 92. It’s a good tradition to carry on.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. One of the best things in Madison in the summer is a huge farmers market around the Capitol Square. I would take somebody there to get fresh cheese curds and then probably walk down State Street and check out the shopping.

Q. Has an event or person been an inspiration to you?

A. My first boss was Senator Herb Kohl from Wisconsin, who has since retired. He was in public service not for the recognition or accolades but to improve the lives of people that he served.

Q. What’s one way to end partisan polarization?

A. It comes down to conversation and not just at the Capitol. I think a lot of it needs to happen in communities, acknowledging differences but then trying to find common ground. I think there is a lot of common ground on different sides of the aisle but sometimes it’s hard to get to that if you’re not talking.

Q. What is something very few people know about you?

A. I like to watch bad TV shows. I find it’s a good escape sometimes at the end of a long day. I’m just about finished with the second season of “Fuller House” on Netflix.

Q. Is there someone at the Capitol who you think does a lot of work without getting a lot of credit?

A. The people who run the snack cart that was in the Senate Office Building last year and now hopefully will be back on the second floor. … They’re there pretty long hours during those late-night debates, and those ice cream sandwiches can help you get through a long day at the end of session.

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