SCHENECTADY — The Planning Commission on Wednesday unanimously recommended a bid by Young Parents United to rezone a hospital parking lot into transitional housing for mothers in their teens and early 20s.
The rezoning is subject to further approval by the City Council. If the project comes to fruition it would house up to 14 mothers and up to 28 children on the grounds of Ellis Medicine’s McClellan Street Health Center.
Ginni Egan, director and founder of 3-year-old nonprofit Young Parents United, said finding safe housing for teenage mothers — many of whom have been kicked out of their parents’ homes and are in unsafe circumstances — is the most challenging aspect of her work. She said she can usually find a solution to their other needs.
Egan said her organization serves young men, but only young mothers may live in the facility. They will receive help with life skills, education and an opportunity to finish high school.
Each teenage mother has different needs, she said, and they require an intimate level of support and direction.
The proposal calls for the mothers to live in 14 efficiency-style apartments with shared dining and program space in a 12,300-square-foot, L-shaped, single-story building.
The mothers could stay two years, or until they are able to live independently.
The location, an overflow health center parking lot on McClellan and Bradley streets, is owned by the medical facility. Young Parents United intends to buy the land and build on it.
Young Parents United proposes two programs that would be licensed with the state Office of Children and Family Services: a wing with seven units would be designated for ages 18 and younger; the other for 16- to 24-year-olds. The overlap is due to state protocols, Egan said.
The land on which it would sit is presently zoned for single- and two-family homes, and an “institutional district.” Young Parents United seeks to fully convert it to an institutional designation.
The city doesn’t have a zoning category for transitional housing, according to project manager Rabia Sinaishin, a senior associate with Latham architectural firm Hyman Hayes.
Sinaishin said the location is ideal because it’s what she referred to as a pleasant residential environment in a nice neighborhood, where the mothers can live as a family.
The architect suggested the scale and style of the building would relate to the surrounding residential community. The building will have horizontal siding, gabled roof and porch-style design.
Also, it’s proximity to the medical campus, public transportation and grocery store all stand to benefit the mothers, she said.
Schenectady County has a high teen pregnancy rate of 41.1 births per 1,000, compared to the state rate of 11.7 births per 1,000 for ages 15 to 19.
Options to house them are virtually nonexistent in the area, as Safe Inc., a youth shelter in Schenectady, is licensed for just one teen parent, Egan said.
Planning Commission member Andrew Healey, a lawyer, called the transitional housing plan a must for the county.
“My representing clients in family court, there’s plenty of under-18 children who have no place to go and the Department of Social Services have to find locations in Albany County and elsewhere to try to place them with their kids,” Healey said. “So I think it’s a great need that will fit in well with the community and with the surrounding community.”
Commission Vice Chairman Bradley Lewis asserted it would be “hard to find a better place for this, given all the amenities around and everything else. Even Central Park’s just up the street …”
Egan said the organization will have a community meeting Thursday via Zoom for anybody who has questions. She said Young Parents United passed out fliers in the neighborhood.