When Jayama Phillips’ mother called the leasing office at Regency Pointe, a West Little River apartment complex, she was told a three-bedroom unit was available and ready for move-in immediately. That’s when Phillips knew something was off. She had previously been told there was a six-month wait for such a unit, after multiple trips to the building with a housing voucher in hand.
“It made me feel worthless,” said Phillips, a mother of four who was looking for a unit at Regency Pointe to flee domestic violence. After her application was denied at the building, Phillips has since remained in the same housing unit she was trying to vacate.
Phillips was one of 15 people who signed a letter to the building’s owner, Cornerstone Group, alleging racial discrimination and harassment at the hands of Regency Pointe leasing manager Suri Osorio.
About 30 tenants have come forward since the start of this year with stories of being inappropriately surveilled and threatened with eviction by Osorio at the 1901 W 79th Street building. Nearly all of them are Black women.
The Miami Workers Center, a nonprofit advocacy for workers and tenants, has helped the residents compile their experiences into the letter sent Tuesday to the property owner and several elected officials. The letter calls for Osorio’s immediate removal.
Tenants allege Osorio has threatened many of them with eviction for having visitors who don’t appear on the lease. She’s accused of fabricating stories about tenants to facilitate evictions.
Tayana Gibbs, a resident at Regency Pointe for the past three years, said Osorio rejected her rent payment in January and filed an eviction for “non-payment.” Gibbs later provided money-order receipts that showed she had attempted to pay her rent; the eviction case was dismissed.
“This entire experience has been devastating to me and confusing,” Gibbs said.
When Gibbs complained about Osorio’s demeanor, she said the leasing manager became hostile and ignored her requests for repairs to a window that leaks when it rains, leading to mold that aggravates her allergies.
Osorio has reportedly denied tenants’ rent payments on multiple occasions “motivated by personal dislike of tenants.”
“We believe this behavior is not only extremely inappropriate and unprofessional but racially motivated and targeted, as evidenced by multiple Black women tenants in the property with similar stories and experiences,” the letter states.
Osorio could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Miami-Dade County Public Housing and Community Development office, which gave Cornerstone Group $2.5 million in 2012 surtax funds to partly subsidize the construction of Regency Pointe, also received the letter.
“PHCD takes allegations of unfair treatment very seriously and we have been reaching out to some Regency Pointe residents through our monitoring team,” the office wrote in a statement. “As yet, we have not found evidence that supports or contradicts the allegations made.”
Since 2016, Cornerstone has received more than $38.3 million from various public housing funding sources, including surtax loans, for eight projects totaling 1,229 units, according to a public housing spokesman. As part of the surtax loan, public housing monitors Regency Pointe for compliance with income qualifications of tenants and upkeep of the property.
Leon Wolfe, president of Cornerstone Group, replied to the tenants’ letter the day after he received it.
“At this time, Cornerstone Group will do our own internal investigation into these allegations, which we take seriously,” he wrote. “We are committed to pursuing this investigation as quickly and responsibly as possible.”
The company did not respond to written questions from the Herald, but it released a statement and confirmed that Osorio has been reassigned while the investigation is pending.
“We do not believe it is fair to comment on any particular party involved during our investigation,” the statement reads.
The number of building renters who have had their tenant rights violated is likely much higher than those reported, said Zaina Alsous, programs manager at the Workers Center. Such issues are is not restricted to Regency Pointe, she said.
The stigma of an eviction can leave a permanent stain on people’s records, added Alsous, and shut them out of future housing opportunities. Data indicates Black renters, and Black women in particular, are more likely to be evicted. The ACLU analyzed national eviction data from 2012 to 2016 and found that on average, Black renters had evictions filed against them by landlords at nearly twice the rate of white renters.
“Many people are afraid to speak out because they are afraid of having an eviction on their record,” Alsous said. “They’re stuck in a place of precarity and limbo.”