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 the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe released to Guardian Australia shows that in the 12 months between May 2020 and May 2021, 37 local fundraising campaigns on the forum related specifically to providing basic housing and accommodation needs. In the year following, there were 158 – an increase of 327%. Of those campaigns launched in the last 12 months, 53, or 34%, were found in the previous 90 days. Those running some movements described to Guardian Australia how difficult it had been for them to step forward and ask for help with their 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 was to give up on finding 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 to participate in the system,m and there’s a cost to that, and it’s getting bigger and bigger. “I don’t know if I can live like this anymore. I feel like every day, I will work to come home and find myself ten steps backward. 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 she could not access alone. “It’s quite confronting to step in there and say, ‘I can’t do this by myself, this is beyond me, I do 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 southeast for many years.
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 difference,s and her payments were eventually reinstated, but by then,n she was $1,400 in arrears. She contacted community organizations 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 wish to honor them. And my real estate agent and my landlord have been understanding. But I have no means of drawing support from anywhere else.
“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 meet the community’s needs. “Maybe there needs to be some respite for people working in the [welfare] system – I don’t particularly blame them, but there’s a massive indifference to homelessness, even for motherswithe 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”. Sign up to receive an email with the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning.
“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 the housing advocacy organization Everybody’s Home, said the increasing number of fundraisers for housing costs was “unsurprising” 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 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.”