Saturday, July 30, 2011

Are There Any Places Where They are Giving Away Free Land?

In the 19th century, the federal government decided to settle vast stretches of the west with people other than Indians by homesteading, or giving away land in exchange for continuous settlement.  While it was free, settlers only gained permanent ownership by living and working the land for five years.  It’s estimated that 2 out of 3 people washed out and went home.  When I was a young librarian in the 1980s, we still got calls from patrons asking us if the feds still did this.  They officially killed this program in 1976, but the odd American community still has miniature versions of it.

What made me think of it was Sandusky, Ohio’s Mow to Own program.  Essentially, if you take care of an abandoned lot next to your property for one to two years, it’s yours.  The city auditor’s office comes around to confirm that you are holding up your end.  If so, you could have extra space for a garden, shed, or parking at the next family event, while the city is relieved of the expense of maintaining abandoned property.  Mansfield, Ohio is considering the same thing. 

It seems that whenever there are not enough people, or too much unused land to profitably care for, governments try to find ways to sop up the overflow.  Often, this is done with land banks where cities gather up abandoned property to strategically develop and sell or give to nonprofits to develop. Among the places in the U.S. to do this are Lucas County (Toledo), Ohio and Genesee County (Flint), Mi.  For a study of some other cities that  have created land banks, see this from the University of Michigan.  However they do NOT give away land.  However, some small towns in the Midwest, you can still get free land, and the Center for Rural Affairs keeps an up-to-date list.  Organic Gardening also did an article on this. 

Among big cities, Buffalo, New York has an urban homestead program that allows totally unwanted property—where no one has attempted to buy it—within certain neighborhood boundaries of the city—to be sold for $1 plus closing costs.  It’s one of the last examples of cities trying to deal with abandonment this way.

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