In 1979, when Common Wealth Development (CWD) opened, Willy Street was considered a blight. CWD was created out of this with dedicated neighbors. They said we need affordable housing in perpetuity—housing as if people mattered. We need to have business incubators to cultivate a local economy, and we need workforce training. Thirty-nine years later, with parallel processes that occurred in Madison’s city development, here we are, in an invigorated Willy Street.
CWD is a community development organization centered on healthy housing, equitable economic development, and sustainable land use. Our mission is to support and preserve the vitality of neighborhoods in the Madison area. Our work serves as the foundational bedrock of healthy community and economic development, with projects aimed at improving the housing and business climate of our neighborhoods through a people-first approach rooted in racial equity and a commitment to community-level health improvement.
Our core program areas include:
• Providing safe, stable, and healthy housing opportunities for renters and aspiring homeowners.
• Supporting young businesses through affordable space and business incubation.
• Coaching youth and adults in financial fluency, job readiness, and entrepreneurial leadership.
• Integrating comprehensive community health approaches to citywide violence prevention efforts.
• Supporting the retention and sustainability of affordable land in Madison and Dane County.
CWD’s housing portfolio consists of 111 affordable housing units in East Madison, and 35 units in West Madison. Additionally, CWD has 23 single-family homes in our lease-purchase program, making home-ownership a reality for low-to-moderate-income families.
Our approach to community development forces us to think about how our infrastructure and economic development activities serve as the drivers toward equity and inclusion. Stephanie Bradley Wilson, CWD’s director of health equity and violence prevention, is managing the implementation of evidence-based strategies for enhancing neighborhood safety as an aspect of CWD’s violence prevention work.
CWD also supports two business incubators, Madison Enterprise Center and Main Street Industries, within the booming Madison makers’ corridor. The business incubators support our quadruple bottom line: economy, environment, equity, and education.
The incubators provide affordable space within a creative entrepreneurial community, supporting small and expanding businesses while stimulating economic development within the region. A short list of our success stories include: shopbop.com, Full Spectrum Solar, Virent Energy Systems, Just Coffee, Applied Tech Solutions, Yumbutter, Filament Games, and Artful Home.
“Quince & Apple | Treat has been so lucky to be part of the Common Wealth family,” says Clare Stoner Fehsenfeld, co-owner of Quince & Apple. “Starting our business at the Madison Enterprise Center, we were able to pay very affordable rent and incrementally increase our space in line with our growth. When we graduated from Madison Enterprise Center, we were lucky enough to find the perfect space at Main Street Industries, and we are so happy to be here. Common Wealth is hugely important to our community and provides awesome support for small businesses to startup.”
Justice Castañeda, CWD’s executive director, says, “We have programming supported by our revenue. We are fortunate to be able to use the revenue from our operations to support our workforce development programming.” Revenue from commercial and residential spaces feeds back into those systems, as well as supports CWD’s other community engagement efforts. For example, when you purchase preserves from Quince & Apple, in addition to supporting an amazing local business, you also support health equity, employment, and educational opportunities for youth.
In the next four years, in partnership with community health leaders and The Community Collaboration Grant, provided by the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Medicine and Public Health from the Wisconsin Partnership Program, our efforts to comprehensively support adults in employment and housing within the wider framework of health equity will grow. “We believe in treating a family like a family,” says Angelia McNair, a CWD housing specialist. “You can’t help someone without acknowledging the sense of being.”
Next year, CWD will be celebrating a fabulous 40th anniversary. Looking back on the last 40 years, we can look ahead at the next. While yesterday laid foundations for today, we are not beholden to doing today what we did yesterday, though we will uphold our commitments. Community to us is a verb. It’s a process, a conversation, and a dialogue.
Karen Bednar is the Fund Development Director of Common Wealth Development.
View additional photographs at homeelementsandconcepts.com .
Common Wealth Development
1501 Williamson Street
Madison, WI 53704