Those Tenderloin nuns facing a four-figure rent hike and possible eviction are lauded throughout the neighborhood for feeding the homeless, but the homeless aren’t their only clients. Many tenants of the building next door on Turk Street rely on the nuns’ small charity kitchen to help make ends meet, too. Coincidentally, that building is owned by the nuns' very own landlord.
The Fraternite Notre Dame Mary of Nazareth Soup Kitchen sits on the same parcel as the Winston Arms Apartments, a combination hotel and SRO at 50 Turk Street, owned by local hotelier Natverbhai Patel. The building, which dates to 1914, has a history of citations from the Department of Building Inspection, including blocked fire exits, chronic mold, unsanitary shared bathrooms, rodent and bedbug infestations, and possible lead-based paint (the inspector didn’t test the paint but cautioned the owner about safeguarding against potential toxins when removing it, according to a 2013 inspection report).
[jump] “Clean out vent in shower room; area is being infiltrated by pigeons and is a potential health hazard,” notes the same report. In 2006, inspectors ordered the chronically broken elevator to be fixed. But reviews from former guests on sites such as Priceline.com and Booking.com complain that it’s regularly broken, and indeed, it was still broken when I checked yesterday. A mysterious sign on the third floor informs residents that it will work for “three days a time.” Someone has scrawled “fix me” on the second floor doors.
Priceline lists a stay at the Winston Arms at $91 a night, with a seven night minimum.
Of course, it’s hardly surprising that a Tenderloin SRO would lack the charms of a Bernal Heights Airbnb.
“It’s not by any stretch the worst building on that block,” says building inspector Steve Mungovan, who last visited the Winston Arms and adjoining properties in November. Although he admits that it’s a troubled property, there are bigger fish to fry and few resources to employ.
“When a building like that is in violation, unless it’s an immediate safety hazard — like those fire exits — there’s not much we can do. Nobody likes to fund enforcement,” Mungovan adds.
The Winston has clearly seen better days, but it’s probably not the Tenderloin’s worst. Fire doors on the first two floors were clear (albeit flimsy) yesterday, but management asked me to to leave before checking the rest.
Many of the permanent residents of the Winston Arms’ 42 units rely on the nuns next door to feed them and their families. One of these residents came into the kitchen while I was there, to chat with the sisters and eat a bowl of stew before heading to work. He told the nuns about a sick baby back home whom he had to leave so he could be at work on time.
Another reporter told me that the manager of the Winston Arms let slip that he’s been complaining for years that the nuns’ kitchen is “bad for business.” But the manager refused to comment when I asked, or to provide his name. When I asked how to contact Natverbhai Patel, the manager called the police. Patel’s lawyer, Michael Heath, says Patel is out of the country and unable to respond to requests for an interview. Heath also declined to comment.
Patel often goes by the name Nick, but should not be confused with the other Nick Patel (non-Anglo name: Naranjibhai), who owns the Henry Hotel on 6th Street and Gateway Inn on O’Farrell. Those properties have similarly troubled rap sheets — the city named the Henry one of San Francisco’s 10 worst hotels in 1999 — but there’s apparently no relation between the two men.
“We’re not family. We’ve heard the same stories everyone else has, but we don’t have anything to do with it,” says Rocky Patel, Naranjibhai Patel’s son. Patel is one of the most common Indian surnames, and hotel ownership one of the most common vocations for Indian immigrants. Quartz reports that 25 percent of American motels are owned by someone named Patel.
The other Nick Patel is a family associate, says Rocky, but not a relation or business partner. Rocky also confirmed that Patel is out of the country and apparently unreachable.
The Turk Street sisters say conditions in their building are not nearly so bad as next door — “No worse than any other building here” — noting that they keep the place tidy of their own initiative. Whether the location is worth the $5,500 a month they may soon have to pay is perhaps in the eye of the beholder, or the market.
What Mr. Patel’s other tenants will do if they lose access to the nuns' kitchen is similarly up in the air. The last word is that nothing can be resolved until Patel is back in the US. We’ll continue trying to reach him for comment, and update you if we do.