Who Transformed “Horror Show” SRO?

by on September 25, 2014

Renovated Stanford Hotel Will House Homeless Vets

In his September 23, 2014 story on the opening of a renovated SRO, “‘Horror show’ hotel transformed into home for veterans,” SF Chronicle reporter John Cote fails to clearly credit who is responsible for this transformation. That’s no accident.

In fact, not until paragraph twelve are readers told that Sam Patel and Sam Devdhara own the property. And instead of praising the two Indian-American owners for spending millions of their own money on a hotel and then leasing it for homeless vets, Cote claims the city “persuaded” them to lease the property.

In other words, it couldn’t be that the owners preferred that the city lease their hotel for low-cost housing, which is the truth. Cote writes as if their arms had to be twisted.

Cote’s only other reference to the owners is noting that Patel began managing the property in 2010, and that he and Devdhara bought the property last year. This does not tell readers that they spent millions transforming a “horror show” SRO into one of San Francisco’s finest. Readers could have erroneously concluded that the prior owners did most of the major work.

This beautiful SRO for homeless vets did not simply materialize out of thin air. The Chronicle missed the real story here: how Patel, Devdhara and other Indian-American owners have dramatically improved SROs not to convert them into upscale housing, but for housing homeless people.

The True Stanford SRO Story

Sam Patel took on a project at the Stanford that had those familiar with the building scratching our heads. We saw it as much too big a financial challenge, particularly since he spent most of the money when he was only the lessee, not the owner.

Yet Patel believed. He persevered despite efforts by a rogue Health Inspector to derail the project. He continued as construction costs escalated, unforeseen problems emerged, and a less ambitious operator would have cut back on the renovation’s scope.

It was not until well into the renovation that Bevan Dufty, the Mayor’s top homelessness staffer, heard about the Stanford and approached Patel about leasing it for homeless vets. Patel was open to this from the very outset. He recently did a major renovation at his property on 5th Street that he then leased out to Community Housing Partnership.

Years ago he took the Pierre Hotel at 540 Jones, also subject to a city attorney lawsuit, and upgraded that before leasing it to my organization, the Tenderloin Housing Clinic as part of the Care not Cash program.

So here we have a hotel owner renovating SRO’s not to “gentrify” them, but to make them available for homeless people. Shouldn’t that be a central theme in an article about the Stanford’s transformation?

Media Bias

Sam Patel and Sam Devdhar’s contributions to the city were downplayed due to the local media’s longtime reluctance to publicly praise Indian-American SRO owners. Airbnb, which had nothing to do with making the Stanford a home for homeless vets, got as much if not more positive media attention about the Stanford than the two owners.

True, Patel and Devdhar are for-profit businesspeople. But so are so many developers and corporate folks whose private investments are routinely glossed as also providing public benefits.

I can’t recall ever seeing anything crediting an Indian-American SRO owner with bringing positive benefits to the city. And when the Stanford story gave the media the perfect opportunity, it whiffed.

The media remains trapped in an outdated conception of Indian-American SRO owners. They love trumpeting their wrongdoing, but ignore their significant contributions to both the Tenderloin and Sixth Street (and if you wonder why reporter Cote did not name the former owners who kept the Stanford a “horror show,” it’s worth noting they were not Indian-American).

The media has never praised Indian-American SRO owners for making their buildings available to the Care not Cash or Master Leasing program. San Francisco would not even have a permanent housing program for homeless single adults without these owners’ participation.

The Stanford owners could have earned far more money renting their renovated hotels Stanford to downtown office workers. But they instead invested nearly $10 million in an SRO that now will house homeless vets.

Sam Patel and Sam Devdhar deserved better from the SF Chronicle. They are the real heroes of the Stanford Hotel story.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic. THC leases no hotels from either Patel or Devdhar.



Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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