This Land Is Your Land: When Desperate Cities Give Away Homes

Towns have taken to offering land for next to nothing — or, sometimes, literally nothing

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Real estate prices scaring you off from buying that dream house? Fear not: Weighed down by a sluggish economy and confronted with a glut of vacant real estate, towns across the U.S. and Canada have taken to offering land for next to nothing — or, sometimes, literally nothing.

Whether it’s to boost local businesses or revive homes falling into disrepair, here are three local governments — and one prestigious Ivy League university — that have bet their future on the power of Free.

Take it or leave it… actually, just take it

Gary, Ind., is unloading houses for just one dollar a pop, The New York Times reports. The city was once a bustling home to 180,000 people, but the local steel industry has collapsed since its mid-century heyday, and the city’s population has fallen to less than 80,000. In addition to about $8.4 million in debt, the exodus has left the city with as many as 10,000 abandoned homes.

Residents hoping to snag these dollar-homes must meet an income threshold, starting at $35,250 for one person, and agree to upgrade their new home to meet housing standards within six months. Detroit, which recently became the largest city in American history to declare bankruptcy, has pursued a similar strategy to put people back in empty, foreclosed homes that pose fired hazards and dragged down the prices of surrounding homes. Other cities across the country, including Indianapolis, are following suit.

If you make it free, they will come

Rural towns with dwindling populations are angling to attract new residents and businesses — in other words, taxpayers — by allocating local plots for free giveaways. Small communities in Kansas have led the charge —  with few takers. But James Oltman, the economic development director for Lincoln, Kan., (population: 1,285) said his office continues to get three to four calls a week inquiring about the town’s program. Plots are still available for residents and industrial businesses, Oltman said.

The blog DailyFinance has other examples of small towns where “land is free.”

Riding the boom

The Canadian town of Reston is looking to capitalize on a regional oil boom by luring workers with homes that cost a measly $10, ABC News reports. Buyers put down a $1,000 deposit and must begin construction within 90 days. Once an occupancy permit is granted, the town gives back $990.

Alaska has been playing this game for years, paying out annual dividends on an oil-wealth trust fund since 1982. Residents who had lived in Alaska for at least one year were paid $878 in 2012.

Just take it!

Princeton University tried to give away rundown homes, but with a catch: takers had to foot the bill for physically moving those homes off their land, which the university wanted to use for new development.

Alas, no one volunteered, and the buildings have been demolished, the university said.

8 comments
PauldaPlumber
PauldaPlumber

In 1989 I was fortunate enough to participate in a Housing Raffle put on by the City of South Bend and with the Housing and Urban Department (HUD) wherein you paid an entry fee of $25 and would then go thru a qualification process. You had to either posess the skills to do the remodel work necessary to bring the home back to housing and code standards, or maybe if you know someone who did like a relative or friend. And final option was if you were of good enough financial situation and could hire contractors to do the work for you. The 10 houses were split into 3 Categories based on household size:  A Group- 1-4 people, B Group- 4-6 people, and finally C Group- of 6 or more people. Then everyone was given a specific weekend to go out and view the houses within your designated group. You would get 3 choices listing 1,2,3 of your preference and put them in a fishbowl. So it would vary as to how many people wanted specific houses. So then with all people and dignitaries present they shook the entries in the fishbowl and drew out a name asking them if they would like to have that house. I won one of the houses in my category. So then I was expected to move in within 90 days whether the work was done or not. And I had One Year to complete the remodel and bring it up to code and Housing Standards. Even though I went further then the minimum. I was then required to live in this house as my primary home for an additional 5 Years, which would also be tax abated for that period. This frees up your money to invest in the house and do a really nice rehab. And if no problems or incidents occurred in that 5 year I would then give them $1 Yup One Dollar for the Deed. And I could then do anything I wanted after that. After 6 years during which time I got married we decided to sell for $32500 Cash. I had invested $8000 in the total renovation over the time, and ALL the Labor sweat, tears, blood spilt was good ole fashion sweat equity. Today 9 of the 10 Homes are still standing and 6 of the 10 people are still living in their home. And each and every surrounding house and neighborhood improved as a result of seeing the blighted house becoming the Nicest house on the block. And an added bonus it didn't cost taxpayers anything; it actually helped boost the tax base and even assessed values went up. Residual benefits also included; contractors in area making money, local lumberyards and Hardware stores selling the products and tools to do the work. And even local stores like grocery, drug stores, etc.  got direct benefit of new people in the neighborhood.

Now I Love my city so much that I have put my money where my mouth is and to this day I continue to buy derelicted houses and rehabilitate them back to their Original condition. Ironically I have purchased them off the Banks after they screwed over the people who owned them prior to me buying them at a fraction of what the peoples mortgages were. Most sat for years after that and many were hit by Vandals and Scrapers just wanting a quick buck.  So far I have done this to over 30 plus homes for myself and have done it for other people too. I have even gone so far as to show a few people how to do it. As the Banks aren't loaning money, and most don't have 20% or a Large cash down payment this is a perfect solution to our run down Abandoned housing situation. Even Reston, Canada is implementing a similar program in asking the prospective buyer to put up a $1000 deposit and if you begin work within 90 days and in a year or so you get an Occupancy permit you get $990 dollars back,; and if you don't then they use the money towards tearing it down, or giving it to another person. Other cities across the country are implementing similar programs. Indianapolis now has a brand new law that you can buy the vacant lot or abandoned house that is immediately next to yours for $1 One Dollar as long as there are no major tax issues or liens on the property. Lincoln, Kansas thru their economic dept. also is giving away specific derelict homes an the response has been tremendous said their director James Oltman. Even down and out Gary, IN has developed a program similar to the raffle but with income requirements to make sure you have the resources to fund the rehab, and you must bring it up to housing standards within 6 months. These solutions could be used throughout our country and seem to work a whole lot better then the "Fires in Detroit" have been doing where someone or some group (some have even speculated it could be someone within the cities administration) that has specifically targeted the worst of the abandoned homes on fire, and once the fire department arrives they pretty much let it burn to the ground while mostly concentrating on saving nearby occupied homes. You can see this sad epidemic on you tube as we are talking about Hundreds of houses and not just one or two accidental fires these are appearing to be just too coincidental.

nightman
nightman

Insure that there will be no property tax and I'll buy. Oops, I forgot, I can't trust people who work for "government" to insure me of anything.

politically_incorrect
politically_incorrect

Gary, Indiana is a city that has 84% African_Americans,9% Whites and 5% Latinas.  Check out all cities in the US, with demographic features, and you will see a common trend : High rate of violent crimes and delinquency.

Would you live in that city even if they paid you money? Many would, but those will be persons with nothing to lose !!

As they say, there is never a free lunch !! 

BrianBlack
BrianBlack

Reston,looks to me they get the 990.00 of there deposit back not a home  hello!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

eagle11772
eagle11772

Except all of these homes are in areas that look like a war zone, and are areas too dangerous to live in.  How would you like to own a nice home, but it's he ONLY nice home on the block, with the rest boarded up, burned out, or falling down ?  It doesn't matter how beautiful YOUR house is, if the houses on the rest of the block are gutted wrecks.  They have to face facts, that some areas of Detroit, Gary, Indiana, and Buffalo, New York are way past their glory days, they are never going to recover, even in 100 years.  The best thing that can be done in many of these cases, is to shrink the size of the city, bulldoze entire blocks, and let the land return naturally to it's virgin state.

SarahConfran
SarahConfran

Its about time. there are 6 empty homes in america for every 1 homeless person. 

SarahConfran
SarahConfran

when you have an excess of supply (homes) to get rid of them you need to lower the price. 

politically_incorrect
politically_incorrect

@SarahConfran rather demolish the buildings than invite problems into neighborhoods. Majority homeless folks battle addictions and mental diseases. What makes you think, normal folks who live in those neighborhoods want such neighbors living among them?


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