Back to top

About this Toolkit

This toolkit for Housing and Education Partnerships was made possible through the generous support of the Ballmer Group and reflects the work of Enterprise Community Partners and StriveTogether. We thank the many communities and partners whose commitment and cross-sector collaboration helped to shape this toolkit. Particular thanks go to our partners in Dayton, Ohio; Memphis, Tennessee; and Racine, Wisconsin.

This resource also was informed in part by the thoughtful research of the Urban Institute, including case studies of local housing and education partnerships that are included throughout the text. Urban Institute’s research on local partnerships also is reflected in a research brief: Aligning Housing and Education: Evidence of Promising Practices and Structural Challenges, released mid-2020.

For more information about Enterprise Community Partners and this toolkit, please contact:
Alexa Rosenberg, Senior Director of National Initiatives
or Lindsay Eilers, Director of Impact Assessment & Evaluation

For more information about StriveTogether, please contact:
Colin Groth, Executive Vice President of Strategy and Development

For more information about the Ballmer Group, please contact:
Jeff Edmondson, Executive Director of Community Mobilization

Design: Aaron Geis
Photography: Courtesy of Enterprise Community Partners and copyrighted through Shutterstock.

This toolkit users a number of phrases and terms that may be unfamiliar. Check out the Key Terms table before you get started for a few definitions. And if you’d like to learn more about the housing and education sectors before jumping in to the toolkit, take a look at the Housing 101 and the Education 101 in the Appendix.

  • Backbone organizations serve as facilitators or leaders of work across multiple organizations or sectors in a community. Backbone organizations help align the work taking place, guide vision and strategy, and establish shared measurement, among many other aligned efforts.11
  • Collective impact refers to initiatives or partnerships that bring organizations together across sectors in a deliberate, structured manner, with the intention of addressing shared goals and creating social change.
  • Economic mobility typically refers to the ability of an individual or a household to change their economic status over time, resulting in greater financial security. Recent efforts have broadened this definition to include the concepts of power and autonomy, as well as being valued in community.12
  • Equity refers to the absence of differences or unjust treatment between groups or communities. Groups may be differentiated by such factors as socioeconomics, race or ethnicity, and geography. Unlike equality, which aims to treat all groups the same, equity, particularly racial equity, seeks to address past injustices and repair systems that have resulted in inequitable outcomes.
  • Gateways refer to stages in the StriveTogether Theory of Action framework. Gateways identify the benchmarks needed to help communities build and sustain “cradle to career” civic infrastructure, moving from exploring partnership to transforming systems and improving economic mobility.
  • Outcomes refer to the changes in conditions that result from a project’s work and are used to understand progress toward a project’s goals. Unlike outputs, which typically measure activities (e.g., after-school programming for school-age youth), outcomes measure the results (e.g., improved educational performance).
  • Shared outcomes are the goals for a particular community or target population that are identified by and shared across multiple sectors, with local partners implementing aligned solutions to address challenges and advance outcomes.
  • Systems change refers to a fundamental change in the policies, processes, relationships or power structures that govern systems or core institutions and, in turn, affect the lives and outcomes of individuals interacting with those systems.13 Systems change often focuses on addressing the root causes of seemingly intractable social challenges and on the structures that perpetuate inequities and disparities.14 

14 Rachel Wharton and Alice Evans. “Systems Change: What It Is and How To Do It.” London Funders. 2020.


11 Shiloh Turner, Kathy J. Merchant, John Kania, and Ellen Martin. “Understanding the Value of Backbone Organizations in Collective Impact: Part 2.” Stanford Social Innovation Review. July 2012.


12 Gregory Acs, Amrita Maitreyi, Alana L. Conner, Hazel Rose Markus, Nisha G. Patel, Sarah Lyons-Padilla, and Jennifer L. Eberhardt. “Measuring Mobility from Poverty.” The US Partnership on Mobility from Poverty. April 2018.


13 Srik Gopal and John Kania. “Fostering Systems Change: Five Simple Rules for Foundations Seeking to Create Lasting Social Change.” Stanford Social Innovation Review. November 2015.

Aligning National Partners to Support Local Solutions

This toolkit emerged from a collaboration among Ballmer Group, Enterprise Community Partners and StriveTogether, driven by a belief in the power of cross-sector partnerships to transform inequitable systems. Cross-sector partnerships are increasingly recognized as a way to go beyond the work of addressing disparities to focus more intentionally on root causes, bringing together stakeholders from different industries, perspectives and backgrounds. Supported by Ballmer Group, Enterprise Community Partners and StriveTogether have worked to bring together housing and education partners at the local level, centered on the goal of advancing economic mobility for households with low incomes.

This toolkit is based on strong evidence and informed by the work of communities exploring and implementing housing and education partnerships (see Appendix G for more information). This resource reflects the contribution of expertise and research from the Urban Institute, conducted in collaboration with Enterprise, and captured in the following brief: Aligning Housing and Education: Evidence of Promising Practices and Structural Challenges, released in mid- 2020. The toolkit also includes lessons from Enterprise’s engagement in supporting cross-sector collaborations across the country. The toolkit’s approach to partnership and systems transformation is also heavily influenced by the StriveTogether Theory of Action.

Focusing on one issue alone will never bring about the change we hope to see.10 



10 The Ballmer Group. Accessed March 15, 2020,

  • Ballmer Group supports efforts to improve economic mobility for children and families in the United States who are disproportionately likely to remain in poverty. Through philanthropy and civic activism, Ballmer Group supports organizations and initiatives at a regional and national scale.
  • Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. (Enterprise) is a proven and powerful nonprofit that improves communities and people’s lives by making well-designed homes affordable and connected to opportunity. As a social enterprise, Enterprise brings together the nationwide know-how, policy leadership, partners, donors and investors to multiply the impact of local affordable housing development. Over more than 35 years, Enterprise has created 662,000 homes, invested nearly $53 billion and touched millions of lives.
  • StriveTogether is a national movement with a clear purpose: helping every child succeed in school and in life, from cradle to career, regardless of race, ethnicity, ZIP code or circumstance. StriveTogether partners with nearly 70 communities across the country, providing coaching, resources and rigorous approaches to create opportunities and close gaps in education, housing and more.
  • Urban Institute is a nonprofit research organization focused on economic and social policy research. Urban Institute is a trusted source for unbiased, authoritative insights that inform consequential choices about the well-being of people and places in the United States.

Letter from our Funder

As a society, we often try to solve social challenges in silos. All you have to do is look at how our government is organized to see that. Education has its own agency. Housing, the same. So do criminal justice, health, and workforce. Yet, there is growing recognition that these sectors are intertwined. In fact, realizing improved outcomes in any one of these sectors at a scale we would hope for requires thoughtful and sustained collaboration across many of them.

This has never been more apparent as we face two pandemics that have particularly affected housing and education. The first pandemic, COVID-19, has led families to be home for extended periods. With education now taking place at home, the stability, quality, and affordability of housing has never had a more direct impact on how a child can and will perform academically. Common sense, as well as research, tells us that even when a child can safely attend school five days a week, these same factors impact their ability to learn.

The second pandemic, white supremacy and systemic racism, has also highlighted how closely education and housing intersect. Our country’s long history of intentional disinvestment in neighborhoods populated primarily by people of color – one of the most blatant examples being redlining – has created barriers to wealth creation through homeownership that puts far too many families one missed paycheck away from eviction. No family, especially those with children, can learn and grow educationally under such toxic stress.

Enterprise Community Partners and StriveTogether have worked together over the last 18 months to support communities as they take on challenges across the education and housing sectors to improve outcomes for children and families in practical yet significant ways. These organizations have learned not just from their previous experience and research, but also from direct technical assistance work with three communities – Dayton, OH; Racine, WI; and Memphis, TN – about what is needed for partners to work together across these sectors in data-driven, intentional ways to improve outcomes at scale.

This toolkit is exactly that: a tool. It will not create change all by itself. It will take partners working together and using this tool to guide their work to achieve real change. Both Enterprise and StriveTogether will use this tool in the communities where they work as a resource to meet them where they are and take the steps needed to improve outcomes at unprecedented scale. We invite you to do the same in your work to improve your community and the lives of those that call it home.

This is just a start, as we hope to partner with more sectors as well. There is no doubt you will find useful examples and resources here to help you show that seemingly intractable challenges across two sectors can indeed be solved. With the backdrop of these pandemics, we should feel a sense of urgency and purpose to take further action. Now more than ever, it is clear that we must stop thinking in silos and start getting to real and sustainable solutions.

Jeff Edmondson
Executive Director of Community Mobilization
Ballmer Group