--- Issued February 27, 2016

John E. Horan, 73, executive director of the Erie Housing Authority, died Thursday, February 25, 2016.

Horan walked the walk

He died at Saint Vincent Health Center of natural causes.

He served as executive director of the Authority since 1977.  Prior to that, he was assistant director of the Erie Redevelopment Authority from 1968-1972, and planning director for the City of Erie from 1972-1977.

He began his 40th year as the Authority’s director on February 2 of this year.

Horan’s legacy at the Authority, can be summed up in three words: 

“It’s About People.”

That was Horan’s credo, and under him it became the credo of the Housing Authority of the City of Erie.  “It’s About People” was Horan’s way of condensing the Authority’s mission statement:

“The Housing Authority of the City of Erie exists to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing for lower-income families, elderly, and persons with disabilities; and to foster among the residents we serve economic self-sufficiency, and a sense of community and pride in the neighborhoods where they reside.  “

He expressed this mission statement in his own words in a 2008 letter to the editor:   “In Erie, public housing is about people.  It’s about getting them off welfare and onto the economic ladder. It’s about helping them achieve self-sufficiency.  It’s about temporary housing assistance while they get on their feet and move into the mainstream of society.  It’s about the American dream, helping our residents so they too can eventually buy their own homes with the money they earn at their own jobs.”

Sister Rita Brocke, of the Sisters of Mercy, in her own letter to Horan, said about his work, “I continue to be in awe of all you do through the Housing Authority ... Thanks, John, for all you do for those living in poverty, reflected by the beautiful and happy faces of the children in your programs.  You make creation more beautiful.  God’s peace.”


When honored by Edinboro University on February 25, 2008 with the Martin Luther King, Jr., Award, Horan said "It's not just about me  It’s about our Board and staff and the programs the Authority offers to overcome the barriers facing low-income families on their journey toward economic self-sufficiency." He said these barriers revolve around incomplete education, lack of job training, and few or no job opportunities. The Housing Authority has implemented a range of programs for public housing residents to address each of these barriers.”

Some of these programs and initiatives include:

The Ellen Curry Foundation:  The Curry Foundation was established in1989 to enhance and improve the general education level of children under the age of 22 years who reside in housing owned or managed by the Authority.

Elementary School Scholarships: The Curry Scholarships give children of low-income families the opportunity to attend parochial elementary schools of their choice, thus giving them the advantage of accelerated private education, starting with kindergarten through the eighth grade.

College Scholarships: The $1,000 Louis J. Tullio Scholarships are meant to encourage self-esteem, higher education, and to create role models for high school students living in public housing.

After School Clubs: With the Greater Erie YMCA, these clubs make possible year-round educational/recreational activities for youths including homework time, gym, computers, art, cultural events, movies, field trips, swimming, and sports leagues. Over 120 children participate daily.

Children’s Library: In cooperation with the Erie County Library, there are libraries at two family developments. Each library contains over 1,000 volumes. Children also have the opportunity to work with reading mentors provided by the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Head Start: The Authority partners with GECAC in the Head Start program, a nationally recognized early childhood education program that gives children a chance to establish a pattern of success. Those who participate gain a lifelong advantage in academic achievement. The Authority sponsors Head Start at three public housing sites.

Pre-K program: The Erie Housing Authority has joined with Early Connections, Inc., to offer a pre-K program for 3 and 4 year olds at two public housing sites.

Earth Action (formerly Earth Force): Earth Action allows youths to become involved in identifying and solving local environmental problems. The Earth Force programs provide children with hands-on opportunities to learn about their environment.

Adult Education and Job Preparation:  In partnership with the Northwest Tri-County Intermediate Unit and the E.F. Smith Quality of Life Learning Center, the Authority established two on-site adult education and job development centers. These provide services that address the education and job preparation needs of public housing residents. Programs include: GED, Adult Basic Education, English as a Second Language and computer training. Also, career assessment, interviewing techniques, training referrals, and job placement. In 2007, the two centers placed 44 public housing residents in jobs.

Housing Authority Employment of Public Housing Residents: The Authority strives to make its workforce more representative of the population it serves. As employment opportunities become available, first preference is given to residents of public housing. Many have risen through the ranks to take on supervisory roles. The Authority also offers the summer employment program for college-bound public housing youth. Every public housing child who is accepted to college is guaranteed a summer job with the Authority as long as they remain in good standing with their school.

Housing for the Disabled: The Housing Authority now has 109 apartments that are fully handicap-accessible. Persons with chronic mental health problems have also found safe, affordable housing with support services in public housing.

Opportunities for Immigrants: Immigrant refugees are able to begin their new lives in this country in the welcoming confines of public housing. Services for immigrants in public housing include English as a Second Language.

Abolishing Stereotypes: Horan has worked his entire career with the Board and his staff to destroy the negative stereotypes that permeate the media coverage of public housing. In 1998 and again in 2003, the Housing Authority recognized “Heroes of public housing”  -- individuals who lived in Erie’s public housing and then went on to make significant contributions to our community, state, or the nation. “The poor will always be with us,” Horan said in another letter.  “Contrary to the prevailing stereotype, most of our residents are hard working and will become contributing members of society once they get on their feet.”

Horan’s achievements and contributions were seen by Edinboro University as reflective of Dr. King’s philosophy and teachings, particularly in the areas of social justice and social activism.  The University recognized that Horan embraced the belief of Dr. King and his followers, “that to have a truly color-blind society, we need a commitment to adult self-sufficiency and equal access to schools and to early childhood education.”

Horan dedicated himself to this philosophy and the Authority’s mission statement. He worked to end the de facto segregation that existed in public housing from the 1940s until he assumed leadership of the Authority. In those early years, Blacks in public housing were kept in their own areas, segregated from whites and other ethnic groups. In honoring Horan, the University recognized that thanks to his work, Erie public housing has been fully integrated for nearly three decades.

He also changed the face of public housing by upgrading the physical condition of more than 2,100 housing units throughout the City of Erie, making Erie’s public housing the envy of housing authorities across Pennsylvania and the country.


In  2012, Horan was chosen as the recipient of the United Way’s Tocqueville Award for his volunteer efforts, which include the March of Dimes and Walk for Babies.    This prestigious award recognizes outstanding volunteer service to the community through personal leadership and long-time commitment. The award dinner, at which he was honored, brought together Tocqueville Society members, agency directors, past award recipients and guests of the honoree to pay tribute to the recipient of the United Way’s highest honor.

The Tocqueville Award honored Horan for his commitment to a voluntary system of human services; creative effort in devising new and better ways of performing volunteer assignments, or in meeting community needs; outstanding leadership in volunteer service as well as serving in the ranks; sustained service over a period of years; inspirational activities; and quality of performance that stimulated others to serve and work harder; service that was of significance to the Erie community. 

From 2000-2015, Horan served as a volunteer on the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania Council of Trustees. He was chairman of that Board from 2011 to 2015.  He also served as a member of the Presidential selection committees for two recent Edinboro presidential searches.

The recently publicized problem of teen and street violence has been Horan’s concern for many years and that was recognized by the Tocqueville Awards committee bas far back as 2012. “His one-to-one mentoring strategies have garnered support and participation from scores of Erie professionals,” the award certificate stated. Horan and his volunteer mentors have seen many positive results from the following initiatives that can be replicated throughout Erie and beyond.

Some of these initiatives cited by the Toqueville Awards Committee included:

Night at the Ballpark -- every year Horan and other volunteers take children from low income families to a “Night at the Ballpark” to watch an Erie Seawolves baseball game.

Learn to Fish -- Horan and other volunteers mentor children of low-income families in an annual summer “Learn to Fish” program where children are taught how to fish.  For many, it is the first time in their lives they have ever been fishing.

Learn to Golf -- Horan and as many as 20 other adult mentors volunteer each summer to help teach boys and girls how to play golf. This includes teaching the fundamentals of golf and the rules of golf, and stressing honesty and courtesy.


On January 16 of 2016, Horan received  the Martin Luther King Award at the 6th Annual Dr. King Awards Dinner, given by the Bayfront NATO, Inc., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Center.

The award honors an individual who has displayed “a wholehearted, purely socially motivated, aptitude for impacting and changing our community through their involvement, affiliations and endeavors."

At the King awards ceremony, Erie Housing Athority Board Member Bishop Dwane Brock, pastor of the Victory Christian Center, called Horan "a true and unmatched visionary" who had made a difference in the lives of many, many people.”

He said that under Horan's leadership, community policing and social service programs have helped to make Housing Authority neighborhoods "the safest" in town.

Brock said Horan has shown his commitment to the voluntary system of human services for more than 40 years by leading and participating in organizations and causes that provide services and opportunities for the entire Erie community, and particularly for the children of low-income families, and that his volunteer efforts have resulted in contributions of more than $800,000 for various charitable causes that benefit adults and children of Erie County.

Horan was one of four founding volunteer members of the Ellen Curry Foundation, established in 1996 to enhance and improve the general education level of children of lower income families residing in the City of Erie. He helped set up the Foundation to act as the umbrella organization for the Ellen Curry Scholarships and the Louis J. Tullio Memorial Scholarships. Horan was the chairman and sole fundraiser for the Foundation.

Since these scholarships began in the 1998-99 school year, 120 children were awarded a $458,285 in Ellen Curry Scholarships.  The scholarships are funded by private donations to the Ellen Curry Foundation. Since 1998 when the program began, $91,000 in college scholarships has been awarded through the Louis J. Tullio Memorial Scholarships.

Brock said that "Leaders of public bodies and social service agencies all know that Mr. Horan has a way of obtaining ‘buy-in’ by both the rank and file as well as leaders for causes that benefit the community and various non-profit agencies.

“If  John Horan backs a cause, it must be a good one. When he sets a course, other volunteers are sure to follow.

"I can’t think of a fund raising effort that he has supported that hasn’t been a success. Whether it’s for education of low income children, the arts, the United Way, or March of Dimes.

'Horan knows how to get the job done for those in need and those who need affordable housing."


James Sherrod, executive director, Bayfront NATO Martin Luther King Center, said that, “The Dr. King Award, presented to Mr. John Horan, is the most prestigious award given by our organization in recognition of what an individual, business, or organization has achieved in impacting our community and changing lives while upholding the standards of Dr. King.

“I grew up in public housing, from the time I was four years old through college,” said Sherrod, now 53.  “I know first-hand what Mr. Horan and the Authority have done. I lived In Harbor Homes, 1902D Buffalo Road, and then at 1956 East 19th Street.

“I graduated from college in 1985.  John took over in 1977.

“I have good memories of the interactions with the Authority staff, especially the maintenance staff, which would always give us candy or say hello to us.”

“Public Housing used to be known as ‘The Projects’ and had a negative connotation,” Sherrod said. “But John made public housing a place to be proud to live in, housing that was clean, decent, and affordable.

“I’ve also seen the Authority support a whole host of programs for children – many of which I participated in myself as a child.”

Sherrod said Horan “has shown It’s About People over and over again during his time as director by creating programs for all residents and by implementing partnerships with numerous community groups.

"Without those partnerships, I don’t know what many of the  kids today would be doing. His partnerships and influence have changed the lives of our kids.

“For John Horan, it really is all about people.”