Ward 6 advisory neighborhood commissioner Alex Padro (far left) walks with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, HUD Secretary Julian Castro and District Department of Housing and Community Development Director Polly Donaldson as they tour the Shaw neighborhood on May 21. (Photo by Rob Roberts).

In recognition of his department’s work for half of a century, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development was escorted on a short tour of a District neighborhood by the city’s mayor. On May 21 D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) showed U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro a part of the historic Shaw neighborhood as a part of the department’s 50th anniversary activities. Bowser said that HUD’s investment in producing and protecting affordable housing has made a difference in that area.

“Whether they have been here for five minutes or five generations, Washingtonians understand the District’s brightest days are still ahead,” Bowser said. “That’s because for decades, the District has worked with HUD to preserve and expand affordable housing options. The District and HUD are ensuring that those in need have a chance to share in the recent prosperity and revitalization.”

Shaw is named after Civil War Union Col. Robert Gould Shaw who commanded the storied all-Black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. After the war, Blacks remained in Shaw and built their homes, schools, businesses, churches, and entertainment establishments in the area from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century.

Howard University was a neighboring landmark in Shaw during those years with many of its residents working or attending school there. The nationally known “U” Street corridor is considered a part of Shaw and was once known as the nation’s “Black Broadway.”

However, the riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 devastated Shaw, and for decades it remained a crime and drug-invested haven. The opening of the Shaw-Howard University Metrorail station in May 1991 started the economic revitalization of the neighborhood and now it has been gentrified by young professionals, most of whom are White.

Alex Padro, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for 6E01 and Polly Donaldson, the director for the D.C. Housing and Community Development Department (DHCD), accompanied Bowser and Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio. The tour participants visited the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA on Rhode Island Avenue, N.W., the first in the nation for African-American women.

The YWCA is being renovated to accommodate low-income women and women with special needs with support from the DHCD and a Federal Housing Administration loan.

The party then walked two blocks to the construction site of the Channing Phillips project and Lincoln/Westmoreland apartments, both projects supported by DHCH and HUD.

The last stop was Progression Place, a mixed-income development with some affordable housing units and the headquarters of the United Negro College Fund.

Bowser said she focused on Shaw instead of housing developments east of the Anacostia River  because “there is significant HUD involvement” in the neighborhood. Castro said he understands the dynamics of what is happening in Shaw.

“What I see is a neighborhood rising,” he said. “People of all income levels should have the chance to live in Shaw. The people who lived here during the tough times shouldn’t have to leave.”

The political leaders grabbed a cup of coffee at the Uprising Muffin Company, a shop owned by Donnie Simpson Jr., son of the famous television and radio show host.

Eugene Puryear, former candidate for a D.C. Council at-large seat, was there when the mayor and the secretary stopped, and was not impressed with the tour. “It looks like a photo-op to me,” Puryear said. “It is more of a spectacle than anything of substance. It shows that there is no connection between the political class and the average person.”

Larry Adams, a Shaw resident for decades, was happy to see the mayor and the secretary. “This is positive,” Adams said. “It’s good that the mayor can show people examples of how the city is progressing.”