It's a tale at least as old as the first dot-com boom in SF, as elderly renters face displacement or eviction due to the real estate pressures that make rent control precarious. And now one of the Castro's elder statesmen has fallen victim as well.
There is probably a bit more to the story than what Cleve Jones himself has explained on Facebook and in speaking to the Chronicle this week. But the one-bedroom apartment that he has lived in since 2010, in a duplex on 18th Street, and which he shares with a roommate, is having its rent hiked from $2,393 to $5,200 on July 1. The rise in rent came after Jones's new landlord hired a private investigator, as he told the Bay Area Reporter, and determined that he was not living in the unit, and therefore rent control was no longer valid. Jones calls the new rent amount "just impossible."
The new owner, 30-year-old Lily Pao Kue, claims that Jones's roommate is a subtenant, which is not allowed in the terms of his lease, and that Jones has not been residing there. While Jones could likely prove primary residency to the Rent Board using utility bills, and showing that he keeps belongings in the home, he says he's decided that isn't going to fight the situation through legal means — though he will be leading a protest on Sunday.
"I don't have the stamina to hunker down and have months in a literal construction zone," Jones says to the BAR, referring to construction on the adjacent unit that's already begun. "She can do whatever she wants. ... She bet she could get me out and she did."
Jones has made no secret that he has spent much of the pandemic isolating in Guerneville, at a cottage he bought there with proceeds from his 2016 memoir When We Rise: My Life In the Movement.
"Even during those times when I was away from the city, I was never really away," Jones tells the Chronicle. "I was always coming back. That’s my 'hood."
And, as he tells the BAR, "I don't want to leave. I came to the Castro in the mid-1970s, and I've moved away for work many times, but the Castro: that's where my heart has always been."
Jones also says that he needs to return to the Castro regularly for specialized medical care, as a 67-year-old HIV-positive man.
Previously, Jones spoke to SFist about the potential loss of the "gayborhood" that is the Castro, as more and more straight renters and homeowners move into the area, and as older LGBT residents get priced out.
"I'm a renter, and I'm not a wealthy man," Jones said back in 2016. "When the inevitable eviction comes, I'll have to leave, and I don't know where I'll go. I'm getting old, and I hear horror stories about seniors ending up in senior facilities where they aren't treated with any dignity and may even suffer special abuse for being LGBT."
On Facebook, Jones has called Kue "remarkably aggressive, hostile and greedy," and he tells the BAR that he only found out that the building had been sold when his roommate's car was suddenly towed out of the driveway. The former owner of the building passed away a couple of years back, and Jones says the driveway had been vacant for the entire pandemic, so he and his roommate were using it.
When Jones then had a conversation with Kue, he says she suggested that there would be a tenant buyout, which he said could be handled through the Rent Board. But, he says, Kue then installed cameras on the property to monitor his and his roommate's comings and goings, and then Jones says she decided to invoke the state's Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act and claim that Jones has moved out of the unit and therefore the rent can be raised to market rate and there will be no buyout.
The story may not be over yet. Kue tells the Chronicle that she seeking a hearing on her petition with the Rent Board, and she said in an email, "I want Cleve to continue the tenancy and let the judge determine the petition. I will be gracious and accepting of law."
But Kue also says she feels threatened by the attention brought to the case — and she tells the Chronicle she has filed a police report after seeing some comments on Jones's Facebook post about the situation.
Even if she didn't know who Jones was, and that he would likely make this fight very public, it seems like there were probably gentler ways to go about this.
"I’m going to be just fine, but she’s going to do this to someone else," Jones tells the Chronicle.
And now, Jones will be hosting a rally for all renters on Sunday, March 27 at 11 a.m., at the traditional spot where Harvey Milk led rallies before him, at Castro and Market.
Photo via Facebook