Gun Scuffle Between Realtor, Payday Lender, Teens Brings Attention To Affordable Housing
A protest over affordable housing in Miami turned dangerous this week when the young protestors were confronted in the street by a couple including a man wielding a gun.
Twitter was alive on Monday with a series of viral videos that showed a woman confronting a group of young black men on bicycles who were in an intersection in Brickell, apparently causing traffic holdups. The woman, later identified as a Realtor, Dana Scalione, pleaded and yelled at the men to move.
As a handful of the young men surrounded her, she alleged that one of them ran over her foot with a bike tire and called them "thugs." A man in a pink shirt, later identified as Mark Allen Bartlett, then joined her, carrying a gun. He called the group a series of insults and racial slurs before the two retreated to their vehicle.
Police were called and Bartlett was subsequently arrested for carrying a concealed firearm without a license. By the end of Tuesday, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle vowed to investigate the incident as a hate crime and to "vigorously prosecute," and the young men were readying to file a civil lawsuit.
According to the Dream Defenders, a Miami-based social justice group, the teenagers had been in the Brickell intersection as part of a youth-oriented group that organizes bike rides, toy drives and cemetery cleanups, and they were bringing attention to the affordable housing crisis. In the videos, the young men can be seen holding signs that say "Preserve Affordable Housing" and "Save Liberty Square."
Bartlett and Scalione have been photographed together at various Miami real estate events, such as an architect celebration at Missioni Baia sales center and a luncheon thrown by Mast Capital. Bartlett and Scalione told Channel 10 they are a couple and that Bartlett had gotten his gun to defend her from the crowd.
An arrest record listed Bartlett as self-employed. But a bankruptcy filing from August — in which he claims assets worth $1.76M and liabilities totaling more than $6M — mentions that he and his brother co-owned two Illinois-based companies, B&B Investment Group Inc. and American Cash Loans LLC, that functioned as payday lenders.
Those companies operated out of storefronts in New Mexico, where they were sued by the attorney general in a case that went to the New Mexico Supreme Court, which ruled in 2014 that the business practices Bartlett and his brother used were "unconscionable" and violated the state's Unfair Practices Act.
According to court documents, the companies marketed loans of $50 to $300 to indigent and financially unsophisticated individuals but obscured the cost of such loans — which had annual percentage rates from 1,147% to 1,500%. Some of the borrowers testified that they did not understand the meaning of interest rates. One borrower took out a $200 loan from B&B that carried a finance charge of $2,160.04. The brothers were ordered to repay borrowers.
Mark Bartlett and his brother later sued one another, with Mark alleging that the brother, Jim, opened his own lending companies that siphoned customers from their joint business. The court ultimately found that the brothers had "animosity and vindictiveness" toward one another and that Mark "engaged in wrongful acts that were malicious, reckless, willful, wanton or in bad faith."
Court documents from 2017 said the brothers' joint company operates in New Mexico, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin. Court documents filed in Palm Beach County say Mark continued to operate lending companies in Illinois called Next Epic.
Scalione's phone has been disconnected and she did not reply to an email sent to the firm where she is listed as an agent, Insignia International Properties. The firm's owner, Darin J. Feldman, also did not respond to a voicemail and email from Bisnow.
Liberty Square was the United States' second public affordable housing project (after one in Atlanta) when it opened in 1937. But new highways, gentrification, segregation, and white flight made life difficult for the population in the historically black sections of Miami. The past few decades, Liberty Square, called "Pork N Beans" by locals, fell into disrepair and was beset by drugs and crime.
Miami-Dade authorities set out to redevelop the project, in 2016 awarding the $300M contract to an arm of major developer Related Group, Related Urban Development Group. The final project will reportedly include a grocery store, a park, 1,380 residences, 15K SF of retail, a community center, a health center and a Head Start center for children. Phase 1 is expected to open this spring with 73 public housing units, 121 affordable housing units and 10 workforce housing units.
RUDG has completed various affordable housing projects around South Florida and proposed a low-income housing project in Brickell, Gallery at West Brickell, on county-owned land at 210 SW 10th St.
But residents in the 55-acre Liberty Square have been skeptical because of past injustices around public housing in Miami. In one case, a public housing project known as Scott-Carver was torn down to be redeveloped, but $20M was spent, nothing got built, and residents were displaced.
In 2007, a series of Pulitzer-winning Miami Herald stories uncovered waste and fraud in the system. In recent years, a state fund for affordable housing has been raided by politicians who used the money for other things. In 2017, the U.S. Attorney's office started investigating about a dozen Miami public housing projects for fraud.
"This is more than just about some white person saying the N word," the Dream Defenders wrote in a Facebook post. "These kids were on the bridge to protest the demolition of their homes. This is about affordable and public housing in Miami. This is about the demolition of the Pork and Beans. This is about the conditions that the people in some of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods are living in."
The Dream Defenders said that they plan to use the weekend's viral news story to bring more attention to the housing problem in Miami. Tuesday night, they held a press conference in which a group spokesperson suggested that the rents proposed for the new Liberty Square would be out of reach for current residents.
"The [area median income] for Liberty Square is $24K," Dwight Wells said at the conference. "The AMI that Related Group is coming with is $48K to $52K. These kids' parents can't afford that."
Wells said they were considering a civil lawsuit over the gun incident. Another spokesperson said they were considering a civil lawsuit against Bartlett and Scalione.
Related did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE, JAN. 24, 4 P.M. ET: Since the publication of this story, Scalione has been terminated from her position at Insignia International Properties, the Miami New Times reports.