In the spirit of settling the wild, wild West, some communities are giving away free land lots. What's the catch? You have to agree to build a house (or park a mobile home) and live in it. For the most part, the places doing this are rural communities without much in the way of work opportunities. But there are definitely some upsides and we can think of worse places to wait out the recession than near a mountain stream in Alaska. Besides, doesn't the whole world work virtually now, or is that just my hemisphere?
The concept is certainly not new. Homesteading incentives dating from 1862 helped settle the far reaches of the country. And as population density increased, communities thrived. Some communities today simply need more people. Land, they've got plenty of, so why not give it away? People pay taxes and that allows schools to stay open, roads to be built, public services to be paid for.
What are you likely to get? A few years ago, the Alaskan town of Anderson -- smack in the state's interior, loaded with spruce trees and views of the Northern lights and Mount McKinley -- put 26 plots of land up for grabs. The town of 300 has no gas station, no grocery store and no traffic lights. It also pays no property taxes, no state income taxes, has no crime and no traffic. Summers are gorgeous with temperatures reaching 90. Winters, well, winters are a different story; the weather can get to minus 60.
The federal government no longer gives away free land (it sells it at fair market value), so if you get something in the mail about the U.S. government's land giveaways, it's a scam. But small communities in many states including Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wisconsin still do. In most cases, they are local programs intended to reverse the depopulation of small towns and each one has its own set of rules about who qualifies and what you must do once you get the land.
In Nebraska, what you build has to have a taxable value of at least $100,000. In Alaska, you have to be a U.S. citizen and live in Alaska for a year before you can claim land -- which seems to run contrary to the stated goal of trying to draw new residents, but we'd pay good money to hear former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin explain it.
Here's a sampling of what we found for free:
1) Several small cities in rural Kansas will give you a land lot if you agree to fashion housing of at least 1,000 square feet on it. Mobile homes are welcome, and we'll be sure to wave as yours flies by in the next tornado. If one lot isn't large enough and you'd like to garden, the city of Marquette, Kansas would be pleased as punch to just give you a second lot adjacent to the first, also for free, says its website. These are developed lots, by the way -- they already have water, sewer and electricity.
2) Atwood Kansas, population 2,600, is also offering free land to anyone willing to move their family to their community and build a new home on one of these lots. If 2,600 people sounds too rural for you, they are quick to point out that another 45,000 people (and probably even more cattle) can be found within an hour's drive. Rush hour traffic isn't an issue.
3) Elwood, Nebraska, with just 761 residents, bills itself as a "great place to find a home." They aren't giving away much in terms of land, but it's worth a look if you want to live in the county seat.
4) Marne, Iowa is giving away what appears to be attractive-looking lots with well-established trees -- either that or someone went a little crazy with PhotoShop. The town, settled in 1875, has 149 residents -- down from the original 617. The city of Marne's website features the winners of the apple pie baking contest, as well as a call for a community prayer for a resident deployed to Iraq and the news that someone's nephew from Australia was visiting. You New Yorkers are just lining up, aren't you?
5) Lest you think businesses are being left out of the free-land loop, some communities aren't waiting for any federal stimulus money to create jobs. They're doing it on their own. Muskegon, Michigan is giving away free land for companies that create new industrial jobs. You get five acres for 25 jobs; create 100 jobs and get 30 acres. The sites they are giving away have full utilities and easy access to highways, a deep-water port, the railroads and the Muskegon County Airport. If that pot isn't sweet enough for you, the city also will throw in free season tickets to the Lumberjacks hockey team or a free boat slip at Harbour Towne Marina in slips the city now owns after prior slip owners didn't pay their property taxes.
And in coastal Camden, Maine, the city is offering a free 3.5 acre lot to any business that will help generate tourism. They throw in no corporate income tax or sales tax for the first few years and will even pay your insurance premiums. Just bring some jobs with you.
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