Wilhelmina Elsa Ford isn’t someone you’d think would be knocked back on a rental application. The Gold Coast mother of two owned her own home for a decade and ran a successful business which she then sold, setting her up financially.
Yet when she separated from her partner, Wilhelmina discovered those attributes didn’t help much in the rental market. She spent several months carting her young baby and toddler to property inspections around the Gold Coast and northern NSW, without success.
She says that as a single parent, she just wasn’t able to compete.
“Because I didn’t have an income showing in my bank balances to show serviceability, nor did I have rental history because I’d owned my own home for ten years, I was not the pick of the bunch.”
It was an experience that left her feeling “pretty shattered and deflated”. While Wilhelmina eventually found a rental property, she was only accepted as a tenant because her mother put the home in her own name.
This is a common experience for single parents navigating our competitive property markets, where rising rents outweigh financial support and put single parent families at risk of housing affordability stress and homelessness.
With 81% of single parent families headed by mothers, it’s women and children who bear the brunt of the disadvantage.
In Wilhelmina’s case, the experience had a silver lining; it prompted her to try to improve housing accessibility for other single parents by encouraging them to get together and pool their financial resources.
She came up with the idea for a home-sharing service specifically designed to connect single parents with other single parents who want to co-rent a home, thereby increasing their choices of housing as well as improving the likelihood of being considered alongside two-parent families.
Early in 2018 Wilhelmina launched ShareAbode, an online introduction platform. Single parent members create a profile detailing their preferred home location, their budget and ideal living situation, with the goal of finding a suitable match.
She says at present there are almost 300 home-seekers registered on the site, which is free to join.
While the financial benefits of two families living together are obvious, Wilhelmina hopes that harmonious home-sharing can also enhance single parent life well beyond the savings account.
“I’d like to match [parents] with another single parent going through the same challenges so they can come together and create their own sort of blended family unit together, based on friendship and support for each other and one another’s children,” she says.
Her next steps for ShareAbode are to enhance the site’s trustworthiness for its growing member community by lobbying for free police checks and personality testing to increase transparency and user confidence.
Small steps, but valuable reassurance for parents trying to move forward with their lives at a time where connecting with others may feel particularly risky.
“I want to make the system appealing to parents who might be doubtful, fearful or apprehensive about the other single parents on there,” Wilhelmina says.
“I want all people on there to feel safe that who they are talking to is the real deal.”