Their stories are compelling and plentiful. Whether born destitute in Erie, PA or Macon, MS, or fleeing from religious persecution in Krgyszstan, or escaping from a refugee camp in Ghana, all ultimately found housing and gainful employment at the Housing Authority City of Erie’s (HACE) Step-Up program. The current workforce of HACE includes 66 full time employees, 24 of whom were residents of public housing when their employment began.
The Housing Authority City of Erie has taken its commitment to HUD’s Section 3 program requirements and emphasis on self-sufficiency initiatives to the max. The individual stories of resident empowerment through the "Jobs, Education and Training" program at HACE have two things in common; the demonstration of a strong work ethic amongst these residents and the expression of their complete gratitude for the training and employment opportunities extended to them.
HACE has received several state and national awards for its Step-Up program whose core mission is increasing residents’ economic self-sufficiency. All participants are offered adult basic education, training and employment. Although they start out at entry positions, most have moved up the career ladder and several into supervisory positions.
Nearly all program participants are now homeowners. Many have raised their children, sent them to college and watched as they blossomed in their chosen career path to become self-sufficient adults. The cycle of poverty has visibly been broken, and the road to continued economic success is well established because residents of HACE have chosen to "step-up."
Neallie Leach-Ruff remembers all too well her long days of picking cotton in Macon. She started working in the fields when she was seven years old. She would not let her humble roots deter her. Neallie worked her way through college in Mississippi by scrubbing floors and working in a garment factory. When Neallie moved to Erie, PA she was in need of affordable housing and employment; she found both at HACE. Today she is the Section 8 coordinator and tenant selection supervisor and credits the Housing Authority with giving her the opportunity to buy her own house, raise her daughter, and help people ….people just like her.