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Ellsworth, Kansas Offers Free Residential Land

With housing costs up where will America's new immigrants find a place to live? The American agricultural Midwest was first populated by European immigrants; now it advertises help to other new arrivals willing to make it home.

Real estate prices are skyrocketing in many countries, but in one place in the American Midwest they are giving land away.

Anita Hoffhines, executive director of Ellsworth County Economic Development, talks about the demographics, "Ellsworth is a city of about 2,100 people in the center of Kansas. It has free land for residential home-building."

The Western U.S. was settled in part by homesteading, a process where free land was given away to people who would build their own houses and then live on that land.

Today, the Midwestern U.S. is losing population and the small town of Ellsworth, Kansas is bringing back the homesteading idea. Ms. Hoffhines says the response has been positive. "We're getting a wonderful response from people either looking to return to a rural area, because they were raised in a rural area, or because the cities have become too expensive, too crowded."

The quality of life for kids and raising families is one incentive that brought Paul and Kim Bayless from the glitter of living in Las Vegas to Ellsworth.

Kim says, "We were looking at getting out of the city, Las Vegas was just so big and growing. A lot of traffic even if you just wanted to go down to the corner store, a lot of traffic. Our kids have been able to go out and play, play with friends, go down to the library; they can go to the bowling alley. There is so much for them to do here."

The offer of free land to build on is attractive and a few new houses are going up in Ellsworth. According to Ms. Hoffhines there have been numerous calls and visitors, "We have had thousands of inquires, hundreds of people have visited and 18 families have moved here."

Residential land is free. Other property is being sold at cut-rate prices. Such as a school, which would cost millions to build today, and sold for only $3,000.

Dave Rose, president of Midwest E-Services in Salina Kansas, sells unusual property over the Internet. "This is an unused hospital in Ellsworth. We currently have a client we are working with to put a research institute in here."

The old hospital sells for about $25,000. A commercial building that used to employ 800 workers is selling for one-third the original price to build it new. Mr. Rose says the estimates for building new are very high, "I would estimate it would cost between 9 to 10 million to build a building of this size and quality in this area."

The effort to attract people and jobs is essential to the town's survival. Fewer employed means less taxes that Ellsworth Mayor Bob Homolka has for community essentials. "When you run out of people to pay taxes, they got to pay more."

And taxes pay for the most essential community assets of all, its schools. Ms. Hoffhines says, "When the school is there the economy tends to thrive. And when there is no school, that school is shut down. That town will basically blow away."

Homesteading free land in Kansas may repopulate the schools, the tax base and the towns. It's an old idea in rural America that could bring back the pioneer spirit.