Desperate tenants are turning to crowdfunding to pay for housing amid Australia’s rental crisis

·5 min read

The unbearable costs and instability of the rental crisis are pushing more people towards crowdfunding for accommodation, with housing-related appeals on one of Australia’s biggest fundraising platforms more than quadrupling over the past year.

The campaigns range from requests for assistance with rental arrears and covering the costs of temporary accommodation, to appeals for help to buy caravans or other forms of mobile accommodation in the face of homelessness.

Data from crowdfunding platform GoFundMe released to Guardian Australia shows that in the 12 months between May 2020 and May 2021, there had been 37 local fundraising campaigns on the platform related specifically to providing basic housing and accommodation needs. In the year following, there were 158 – an increase of 327%.

Related: ‘There are 60 other applicants for every house’: the rental crisis pushing single mothers to extremes

Of those campaigns launched in the last 12 months, 53 of them, or 34%, were launched in the last 90 days.

Those running some of the campaigns described to Guardian Australia how difficult it had been for them to step forward and ask for help with their personal circumstances in such a public way.

For Louise Scarff, the decision to allow her friend Bianca Otto to set up a fundraising campaign for a campervan came after she received six weeks’ notice to vacate her home of seven years so the owners could renovate, and found herself and her three children thrust into an overheated rental market.

Rental prices on many parts of the Mornington Peninsula where she lives have risen more than 20% in the past two years. Vacancies were low, affordable properties were scant, and those that did pop up had hundreds of applicants, many of whom could make huge downpayments on rent.

Scarff, who works multiple jobs while juggling her family commitments, felt the only way through was to give up on trying to find a house, shed most of her belongings, and buy a campervan that her family could live and travel in.

“I don’t know if I’ve got any other option,” she said. “There are so many things you need in order to participate in the system and there’s a cost to that, and it’s getting bigger and bigger.

“I don’t know if I can live like this any more. I feel like every day I’m going to work to come home and find myself 10 steps backwards. It’s a real strain emotionally on myself and my children. I don’t get any time to spend with them or enjoy the simple things in life.”

The campervan, though, would require an outlay of funds that she could not access on her own.

“It’s quite confronting to step in there and say, ‘I can’t do this by myself, this is beyond me, I do really need more resources’,” Scarff said.

Sarah Mottram had also been reluctant to go down the crowdfunding route. A sole parent to a young girl, Mottram said she had always been able to meet her rental obligations and had lived with her daughter in a stable rental property in Melbourne’s south-east for many years.

Related: Demand for food relief soars as Covid, inflation and natural disasters pile pressure on the vulnerable

Earlier this year, unexpected changes to Mottram’s Centrelink payments left her without sufficient income to make ends meet for several weeks. She challenged the changes and her payments were eventually reinstated, but by then she was $1,400 in arrears.

She contacted community organisations and support services in her area for assistance but found they were inundated with need.

“Dignity is really important to me,” Mottram said. “I want to respect the agreements I’ve made. I want to honour them. And my real estate agent and my landlord have been really understanding. But I have no means of drawing support from anywhere else at the moment.

“My budget is so tight that I can’t see a way that I could ever scrimp enough to pay the owed amount and despite my efforts I am out of time,” she wrote on her GoFundMe page.

Mottram said she didn’t believe the welfare system had enough resources to deal with the need in the community.

“Maybe there needs to be some respite for people that are working in the [welfare] system – I don’t particularly blame them, but there’s a massive indifference there to homelessness, even for mothers who have dependent children,” she said.

“People need access to funds, access to support. You’re looking for work and trying to retain your dignity, and you’re getting spoken down to.”

GoFundMe, like other crowdfunding platforms, benefits financially from campaigns run on its platform, garnishing a small percentage of each donation and issuing a transaction fee to hosts.

The director of GoFundMe, Nicola Britton, told Guardian Australia that the trends on the platform tended to give “a clear picture of those falling through the cracks of traditional support”.

“The response we are seeing to the housing crisis is reflective of a much deeper systemic issue that requires special attention,” Britton said, expressing concern that while fundraising campaigns may help in the short term, they were not a long-term solution.

Kate Colvin, a spokesperson for housing advocacy organisation Everybody’s Home, said the increasing number of fundraisers for housing costs were “not at all surprising”, and called on the winner of Saturday’s federal election to invest in social housing.

“Renters on low incomes have been cast to the wolves of the housing market, without enough income to compete, and without policy from the federal government to do anything to address the huge shortfall in supply of affordable rentals,” Colvin said.

“The top priority for whoever forms government this weekend is to provide more homes that low waged workers and others on low incomes can afford so that everyone has a home.”

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