A prominent San Francisco LGBTQ+ rights activist is being uprooted from his home in the Castro neighborhood after the new owner of the property nearly doubled his rent to $5,200.
Cleve Jones, 67, who moved to San Francisco in 1973 and first conceived of the Aids Memorial Quit, is reportedly moving out of his rent-controlled, one-bedroom apartment this week. The move comes after he was notified of a significant price increase from the property’s new owner, who claims that the apartment is not Jones’ primary residence.
The situation has been described as “heartbreaking” by a local supervisor and is seen by many as emblematic of the increasing unaffordability of a city that was once a haven for bohemians and social activists. The median house price in the Castro, the historic LGBTQ+ neighborhood that helped birth the modern gay rights movement, now stands at over $1.5m, according to Redfin.
The new owner, Lily Pao Kue, is a 30-year-old self-described stock market investor who, according to Zillow records reviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, purchased the property in February for $1,585,000.
According to the Chronicle, Kue has installed security cameras around the property, begun construction work in the building and had a car that belonged to Jones’ friend and roommate removed from the property.
In a letter Kue sent to Jones on 18 March, she stated that she assessed he had vacated the property and she would be increasing the current rent – $2,393 – to $5,200 as of 1 July, invoking a Costa-Hawkins petition.
Costa-Hawkins is a state law that sets certain requirements for cities with rent control. Under the law, landlords are allowed to raise rent to market rate once a tenant moves out.
Jones told the Chronicle he had not moved out but had been spending more time out of the city during the pandemic, because he is immunocompromised. Instead of dealing with a court battle, however, Jones said he and his roommate would move out of the property this weekend and search for a new place to live.
“If I were a younger man, I would fill the sandbags and I’d batten down the hatches and would drag this out for as long as possible,” Jones told the Chronicle.
“Part of me feels quite guilty that I don’t have it in me to do it. I am not in good health, I’m HIV-positive and one of the longest-living HIV survivors … And I’m old,” he added.
Kue has said that she is seeking a hearing regarding her petition from the San Francisco rent board.
“I want Cleve to continue the tenancy and let the judge determine the petition,” Kue said in an email to the Chronicle. “I will be gracious and accepting of law.”
Since the property dispute became public, Kue said that she had seen online harassment from Jones’ social media followers and had filed a police report.
In a statement to the Chronicle, the district supervisor, Rafael Mandelman, said: “Cleve recognizes that this is happening and has happened to so many other folks … But he is such an iconic figure and so associated with that neighborhood. It’s heartbreaking.”
On Sunday, Jones’ supporters will rally at Harvey Milk Plaza in the morning to shed light on his situation and those of others who have faced similar issues in the neighborhood.