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Free Land

You'll have to build a house, but what's under it won't cost you a cent

Want small-town living for an even smaller price? Even in the 21st century, free land is available in the United States for modern-day homesteaders willing to build a house and live in it.

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— Roine Magnusson/Getty Images

Most of the programs are in the Midwest, run by local governments that hope to revitalize the population and tax base of farming or fledgling manufacturing burgs. Certain qualifications, building requirements and related costs apply.

For instance, in New Richland, Minn., about 80 miles from Minneapolis, you can get an 86-by-133-foot plot for free. You'll have to pay about $25,000 in assessments for such things as water and sewer — but after tax incentives, which are income qualified, that could drop to about $14,000, the city says. And you're required to build a home, at least 1,000 square feet with a two-car garage on the land within a year of the deed's being issued.

Other states with free land programs include Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa. And entrepreneurs take note: In Camden, Maine, a 3.5-acre lot is available for people willing to start job-creating businesses.

Contact the Center for Rural Affairs about free-land programs elsewhere.

Of course you can't expect these locales to resemble traditional retirement havens in Florida or Arizona. Still, retirees are encouraged to apply — and will generally enjoy lack of rush-hour traffic, low or nonexistent crime, and a rural lifestyle.

"I live next door to an elderly retired couple, and there's another retiree across the street — but he's in his 20s. You don't need much money to live here," says Aaron Brachfeld of the Meadowlark Cooperative, which provides lots of between 1/8 and 1 acre in Agate, Colo., a farming community about 30 minutes outside of Denver.

That program is privately run, drawing on land from a 60-acre parcel. Participants don't have to pay cash for the land but must maintain membership in the cooperative, through such things as donations of labor or grown food. For more info, send e-mail to meadowlarkcolorado@gmail.com.

Sid Kirchheimer writes about health and consumer issues.

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