Wednesday, February 09, 2022

Free land programs in rural towns have iffy success rates

Towns in Kansas—and other rural areas—are offering free land in an attempt to lure new residents amid a nationwide housing shortage. But many of those towns have had such programs since the 1990s, and few have been successful. That's because they face a self-perpetuating problem: "Towns can’t survive without enough people, and people are hard to recruit when the local economies are in shambles," Mark Dent reports for The Hustle, which covers business and technology.

It's a pattern that goes back to the Homestead Act of 1862: over a million white settlers flocked to rural Kansas in the decades following, but increasing mechanization and consolidation of farms reduced the need for farmworkers, and many rural Kansans moved to cities with more opportunities, Dent reports. And in the past decade, rural areas mostly lost population because of out-migration. Between 2010 and 2020, for example, Kansas saw 123,792 births, but 118,086 Kansans moved away. The state only netted 60,000 in population growth because of immigrants.

Bottom line, the people who tend to stick around (or move there in the first place) are those who value small-town life, and those who move based on dollar signs could just as easily reverse that decision later when it's advantageous, Dent reports. That's reflected in a recent Pew Research Center survey that found that, though the pandemic has influenced where many Americans want to live, it hasn't really changed what they're looking for in a community.

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