An estimated 250 people convened at Harvey Milk Plaza Sunday morning to stand in solidarity with Cleve Jones — the celebrated 67-year-old gay rights activist and longtime resident of a one-bedroom apartment inside a duplex on 18th Street — as he now goes about battling his new landlord from pricing him out of his SF home of 12 years.
San Francisco is often called a renter's city. An estimated 65% of the city's housing stock is made up of rental households. Of that percentage, about 60% of those tenants are protected under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance, a.k.a. SF's version of rent control, which protects renters in older buildings from the most severe of rent increases. But that's not to say both private and corporate landlords can't attempt to navigate around those protections.
As SFist reported last week, Cleve Jones, who's shared a small one-bedroom apartment in the Castro with a roommate since 2010, is facing one such situation: a landlord who is trying to prove that the apartment is not his primary residence — therefore allowing the unit's rental price to go to market rate, which means Jones’s rent will be hiked from $2,393/month to $5,200/month starting July 1.
"Our beautiful, little world has been turned upside down by this landlord," Jones tells a packed crowd at SF's Harvey Milk Plaza Sunday around noon, assuring the group "he'll be fine," regardless of the outcome.
The duplex's new owner is claiming that Jones has been spending most of his time in Guerneville, California, where he has a home. Kue is also claiming that his roommate is an illegal subtenant, which isn't allowed in the terms of his lease. (Just before the rally began, a moving truck filled with Brendan's belongings left their shared home.)
A vocal crowd of supporters, among which included state Senator Scott Wiener, San Francisco Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Aaron Peskin, and Dean Preston, and state Democratic Party chair David Campos, were there to show support for not just Jones, but others in the city who are facing evictions. Members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were in attendance; local drag icon Juanita MORE! gave a pro-renters speech that chronicled her own rental history (and struggles) in San Francisco; other notable attendees included San Francisco AIDS Foundation CEO Tyler TerMeer and Castro LGBTQ Cultural District advisory board co-chair Stephen Torres.
Incredible turnout this morning to support @CleveJones1 in his fight against displacement from his Castro home.— Aaron Peskin (@AaronPeskin) March 27, 2022
Labor, LGBTQ, senior, tenant & arts activists all standing together to fight evictions across city, using local laws like #TenantRightToOrganize #TenantProtections2.0 pic.twitter.com/3grHXlwH4I
One rally attendant — "Rob" — was seen holding a sign stating that he's being evicted from his home of 25 years by way of the Ellis Act. Others handed out flyers on behalf of the residents of 3661 19th Street, a building near Dolores Park that has been the subject of media coverage by Mission Local and others. That 12-unit building, as Mission Local reported, was purchased by real estate speculators or "flippers," and tenants were given Ellis Act notices in 2020. Some of those evictions were delayed by a year due to tenants' disability status, but that year delay expired in October 2021.
The Ellis Act was designed to give building owners the ability to "go out of business" as landlords in order to sell a building, demolish it, or convert it into for-sale housing. Because of the law's ambiguous text, the idea of being "Ellis'd" out of a rent-controlled home is something that sits heavy on many tenants’ minds in San Francisco.
In the case of Jones's eviction, the landlord is not invoking the Ellis Act, but appears to be trying to avoid having to buy Jones out from his lease by claiming a violation of his tenancy status. Initially, Jones didn't have the intention of putting up a fight to stay in his home. "I don't have the stamina to hunker down and have months in a literal construction zone," he told the Bay Area Reporter last week, referring to construction on the adjacent unit that's already begun. "She can do whatever she wants," he added. "She bet she could get me out and she did."
But Jones's tone had changed come Sunday morning. Before ending his near half-hour-long speech, Jones told the crowd that he does, in fact, plan to do whatever he can to stay in his home and push back.
"This is not a fight we want," Jones told the crowd. "This is not a fight for which we are prepared, but I have come to the conclusion, this is not a fight from which I can walk away."
Below, some images from Sunday's rally, which was well attended by local media.
Photo: Courtesy of SFist/Matt Charnock