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All Contents © 2019The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Cameron Huddleston, Online Editor
| Originally Published July 2015
People are willing to pay a premium to live in some places. That’s because the most expensive U.S. cities—Boston, New York and San Francisco, to name a few—offer abundant job opportunities in high-paying fields, plus plenty of entertainment options.
But what about the other way around? Will some places pay a premium for you to move or live there? We discovered seven that do. They offer such enticements as free lots, housing allowances, tax rebates and student-loan reimbursement to persuade people to join their communities. Many of these places are small Midwestern towns that have struggled to hang on to their younger residents, who often move elsewhere after college for more opportunities. But a few are bigger cities trying to revitalize their urban cores.
If you’re thinking about moving, consider relocating to a place that wants you enough to pay you to move there. Check them out.
Additional reporting by Meilan Solly.
Incentive: Cash rebate for new home construction
In 2014, the leaders of this town of 1,020 in southern Minnesota, which bills itself as a “nice place to visit, even better place to live,” recognized that Harmony had a problem. The owner of one of the community’s major employers, Harmony Enterprises, told them that his new employees with young families had complained about the lack of move-in-ready homes, says Chris Giesen, economic development coordinator for Harmony. The city’s leaders also realized that Harmony’s median age was one of the highest and its median income was one of the lowest in Southeast Minnesota.
So in the spring of 2014, the Harmony Economic Development Authority (EDA) launched a home construction rebate program that offers a cash rebate of as much as $12,000 to those who build a new home. Giesen says that there are several existing lots with full city services for sale in the $10,000 to $15,000 range. No new homes have been built yet, but the Authority says it is working with a few applicants. In addition to Harmony Enterprises (a maker of recycling equipment), bridge-building contractor Minnowa Construction is headquartered in Harmony. The town’s large Amish population and Niagara Cave attract tourists.
Incentives: Down-payment assistance, loans for home renovation, and free in-state college tuition
New Haven has been undergoing a revitalization, tackling its high crime rate and breathing life back into vacant buildings and abandoned neighborhoods. But the city is still plagued by a homeownership rate of just 31%—about half the national and state averages. To lure home buyers, New Haven is offering as much as $80,000 in incentives through three programs.
First-time homebuyers who meet income and other requirements can receive a loan of up to $10,000 for a down payment or closing costs. City employees, teachers, police officers, firefighters and military members can get an additional $2,500. The loan is forgiven after five years as long as the homeowner doesn’t sell the house. Homeowners can also receive a forgivable loan of up to $30,000 for energy-saving home upgrades, such as the installation of a new roof, siding, insulation, furnace or electrical wiring. They don’t have to pay it back if they stay in their home for 10 years. And New Haven sweetens the pot even more with the guarantee of free tuition to any Connecticut college for students who graduate from the city’s public schools in good academic standing.
Incentive: Student-loan reimbursement
While millions of visitors flock to Niagara Falls annually, the permanent residents of the city named after the famous waterfalls on the U.S.-Canada border have been leaving for years. In a bid to boost its population, currently 49,468 and shrinking, the city launched an effort to lure young people to its downtown by offering to help repay their student loans.
The Downtown Housing Incentive Program reimburses recent college graduates holding either a bachelor's degree or a two-year technical degree as much as $3,492 per year over two years for loan payments in exchange for living in designated downtown neighborhoods for the full two-year period. The city dubs the program participants "urban pioneers."
Incentive: Cash and loans for renters and new homeowners
Detroit is no small town—it’s the biggest city in Michigan. But it has certainly experienced its share of population and economic decline. So to lure people back, the Live Downtown and Live Midtown incentive programs were launched in 2011. To be eligible, you have to be an employee of one of the specific companies located in those areas, and you must rent or buy a home in a corresponding neighborhood.
Both programs provide four financial incentives: a $2,500 allowance toward the cost of an apartment for new renters the first year and $1,000 the second year; $1,000 for existing renters to renew a lease; up to $5,000 for existing homeowners for exterior improvement projects valued at $10,000 or more; and up to $20,000 for new homeowners for the purchase of a home. This last incentive is in the form of a loan that’s forgiven if you remain an employee at a participating company and live at the property for five years, says Elise Fields, of Midtown Detroit Inc., which administers both programs.
Incentives: Tax waivers and student-loan reimbursement
Yes, an entire state—well, much of it—will pay you to live there. Rural Opportunity Zones in 77 of the state’s 105 counties offer new residents state income tax waivers for as long as five years. And 70 of those 77 rural counties also offer student-loan repayments of as much as $15,000, says Kansas Commerce Department spokesperson Matt Keith. Among other requirements to get the tax waiver, you must have lived outside of Kansas for five or more years prior to moving. To be eligible for student-loan repayments, you must have established residency in a ROZ county after a specified date and have an associate’s, bachelor’s or post-graduate degree, among other requirements. The program has been so popular that some counties have waiting lists, Keith says.
Several ROZ counties have additional incentives of their own to lure new residents. For example, Lincoln, which has a population of 1,297 and describes itself as the “size of a dime with the heart of a dollar,” is giving away free lots to the first 21 applicants who build homes in one of the town’s new subdivisions. You can get a free lot, a free building permit and free water and sewer hookup in Marquette—which despite having a population of only 643 boasts a community garden, art galleries and a motorcycle museum. Osborne, a town of 1,421, is offering free lots in a new subdivision and a five-year property tax rebate. Plainville, population 1,903, is offering free lots for the construction of new homes as well as a 10-year property tax rebate.
Incentive: Annual mineral royalty dividends for all residents
Unlike the places on this list that have launched incentive programs in recent years to lure new residents, Alaska has been paying all of its residents for decades. Actually, sharing its wealth would be a more accurate way to describe it. Alaskans voted in 1976 to put at least 25% of the state’s oil money into a dedicated fund—the Permanent Fund. Money in the fund is invested in stocks and other assets, and the fund pays dividends to residents from earnings on those investments. Annual dividends have ranged from less than $500 to more than $2,000. In 2014, the payout from the state's Permanent Fund was $1,884—more than $7,000 for a family of four.
Alaska residents, regardless of age, are eligible for a dividend as long as they aren’t absent from the state for more than 180 days a year or haven’t been convicted or incarcerated for a felony or certain misdemeanors. Residents must apply every year from January 1 through March 31 for the dividend.
Incentive: Free lot on which to build your new home
This tiny Midwestern town (population 832) is projected to be even tinier by 2020, declining at a rate of more than 1% annually throughout the next five years. So with a goal of attracting new residents to the area, both the city and Consolidated Telephone Company are offering free lots in specified areas on which you can build new houses or move a modular house.
All available lots are on paved streets with existing utilities. You must commence construction within six months of being granted the lot—and you must complete construction within 24 months.
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