A nonprofit that serves wards of the state and homeless young adults has filed a lawsuit against south suburban Midlothian, alleging that the village violated federal law by pushing back the organization’s plan to care for kids who have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19.
Aunt Martha’s, a statewide nonprofit, is the only agency in Illinois to be both a licensed child welfare provider and a federally qualified health center. Since 2002, it has owned a single-family home in the south suburb that has served homeless young adults.
In its lawsuit filed Tuesday, Aunt Martha’s alleges that the village of Midlothian is arbitrarily — and illegally — trying to stop the agency’s plan to temporarily house and care for underage wards of the state at the property during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency alleges that Midlothian has violated the Fair Housing Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.
“Aunt Martha’s has been a good neighbor at this location for more than eight years. We hope the Village does not turn its back on the children in the face of a global crisis that demands compassion, collaboration and accommodation,” Raul Garza, CEO and president of Aunt Martha’s, said in a statement.
Midlothian’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
Aunt Martha’s alleges that on April 20, the village, citing zoning laws, told the organization that no one under the age of 18 would be allowed to stay in the home.
The village is “deliberately and wrongfully misapplying zoning provisions and inapplicable building code requirements, declaring that ‘under no circumstances is Aunt Martha’s permitted to accept residents between 0 to 18’ unless Aunt Martha’s complied with its demand that it seek ‘at a minimum a text amendment to Midlothian’s Zoning Code or a special use permit’ and meet institutional building code requirements,” the suit alleges.
Aunt Martha’s maintains that the village’s existing zoning code explicitly allows minors to be housed at the property.
The organization said it’s made “significant” investments in preparing the property to house and care for COVID-19-positive children. The property passed an inspection by the state fire marshal in April and was also inspected and licensed to operate by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
“In addition to redesigning the space to accommodate and isolate the children placed there, preparing the CQC required the installation of a negative pressure ventilation system to control the spread of airborne pathogens,” Aunt Martha’s said in a statement.
In March, the young adults who were staying at the property were moved into hotels to ensure they can still be served, the suit states.