How To Get Free Land in the United States (These 10 Cities Are Giving Out Free Land)


While the federal government is no longer offering free government land to homesteaders, there are a number of cities and towns across the United States with free land programs for residential and business purposes. Mostly you’ll find free land programs in the Midwest, but there are other options as well, such as in the Northeast and West.

If you’ve tried to find affordable housing lately, you know it can be a struggle to find a home or apartment that fits your budget. But what if you were willing to relocate to a city or town, giving away free land in the form of residential lots or free land opportunities for those wanting to open a business and create jobs for the community?

If you’re the adventurous type looking for free (or cheap) land in a new place, read on to learn more about how to get free land in the United States, the requirements you’ll need to meet to qualify, and everything else you need to know before you decide to relocate to build your new home or business.

The Homestead Act of 1862

Before we dive into the details of how to get free land in the United States, let’s take a quick look at the history of free land programs.

Congress passed The Homestead Act of 1862 in an effort to develop the American West and encourage economic growth by offering settlers 160 acres of free government land in exchange for living, improving, and farming the free land for at least five years. After the five-year period ended, the initial filer was granted free and clear title to the property by paying a small registration fee.

The Homestead Act remained in effect until 1976 (although Alaska was given an extension until 1986). Settlers who took advantage of The Homestead Act included immigrants, single women, former slaves, and farmers without land of their own.

Nowadays, the federal government no longer offers free homesteading land, but cities and small towns around the country have adopted the basic idea of The Homestead Act to attract new residents and businesses, often to areas in need of economic revitalization.

What is the purpose of free land initiatives?

While the days of the Wild West are long gone, the principle of free land programs remains largely the same. Today’s homesteading land programs aim to achieve much the same results as The Homestead Act — giving away free land to encourage businesses and people to relocate to areas in need of revitalization.

“The primary objectives of free land programs include attracting new residents, promoting economic development, revitalizing rural areas, increasing local tax revenues, and fostering community growth,” explains Denis Smykalov, a real estate broker at Wolsen Real Estate. “By offering free land, municipalities aim to entice individuals or businesses to establish themselves in the area, bring economic activity, and contribute to the local community.”

How to obtain free land

Towns offering free land each have different requirements for acquiring the free lots. That said, there are some common criteria applicants should expect to meet:

  • You must fill out an application to get free land.
  • You must be able to prove you have funding for the project, such as a pre-approval letter from a lender.
  • You must build a home or business on the free land.
  • You must be able to pay for any assessments or taxes associated with the property.
  • You must gain approval from the local council or town governments.
  • In some cases, you may need to meet certain income requirements to qualify for free land.

According to Smykalov, “Common requirements include building a residence within a specific time period, meeting certain construction standards, occupying the property as a primary residence, or starting a business. Reselling the land shortly after the acquisition is often restricted to prevent speculation and to ensure the intended purpose of the program is met. Specific rules and restrictions may apply and should be understood before participating.”

Where to obtain free land in the United States

There are a number of cities and towns offering free land — or rather, affordable land when you consider that you may need to cover real estate costs, administrative fees, and other expenses needed to acquire property yourself. The following are the cities and towns offering free land as of 2023:

1. Buffalo, New York

For those who want to receive free residential lots but don’t want to live in a rural setting, the city of Buffalo, New York, has established the Urban Homestead Program. The free lots offered can be obtained in one of three ways:

  • Taking ownership of a vacant lot that is adjacent to a homeowner’s primary residence
  • Acquiring a vacant lot to be used for new home construction
  • Undertaking rehabilitation of an existing residential structure

There are a number of requirements you need to meet to qualify for each option under the free home site program, but they all share a few common conditions:

  1. The property must not already be needed for any public use.
  2. No qualified buyer should be attempting to purchase the property (as a sale always takes precedence over a free lot).
  3. The free lots that are within designated urban renewal areas are only eligible for the Urban Homestead Program at the sole discretion of the Office of Strategic Planning in Buffalo, NY.

In the cases of new construction, the home must be completed within 12 months. If you’re rehabbing a house, the repairs need to be done in 18 months. In either case, the homesteader is required to occupy the premises for a minimum of 36 months.

2. Claremont, Minnesota

If your family has a gross annual income of $129,000 or less, you can find homestead land for free in the small town of Claremont, Minnesota (population 509). Note that there is a $1,000 non-refundable administrative fee when choosing your lot.

What makes this program unique is the fact that Arden Home Services, in partnership with the City of Claremont and Three Rivers Community Action, will construct modular homes for income-based single-family housing.  Each home will be 1,000 square feet with two bedrooms, one bath, and a two-car garage. The basement will have room to add two bedrooms and another bathroom.

Approved applicants must apply for USDA Rural Development low-interest loans and must complete homeownership classes and counseling through Three Rivers Community Action programs.

3. Curtis, Nebraska

The small town of Curtis, Nebraska (population 805), has free land sites available for residential lots and commercial/industrial purposes. If you construct a home meeting town-approved specifications within a certain amount of time, you can receive the lot for free.

Those who are interested in expanding, relocating, or starting a business in Curtis can also take advantage of certain free land opportunities:

  • Free commercial/industrial land sites
  • Generous business start-up funds
  • Tax increment financing through a progressive City Council
  • A quality labor pool in the area

Curtis is a little off the beaten path — about 300 miles from the nearest major city of Denver — but it has most of a larger city’s necessary​ services and is surrounded by other towns with additional dining, shopping, and recreational activities. Curtis is also home to the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, a movie theater, and the Arrowhead Meadows Golf Course.

4. Elwood, Nebraska

The Wheatfield Addition of Elwood, Nebraska, has 110-by-115-foot free lots as part of its homeownership program for owner-occupied residential properties. Construction must begin within one year of the purchase date and be occupied within two years. The lots are free, but you must make a $500 deposit, which will be refunded once the home is completed.

The Village of Elwood also offers a down payment assistance program for new construction. If the house is finished within the allotted time and all other requirements have been met, the village will provide the homeowner with a payment of 10% of the construction cost of the home, up to $25,000.

Elwood has a handful of services, including shopping and dining, and boasts a city park with a swimming pool and a disc golf course, among other activities. Elwood also has its own public library and hosts the popular Gosper County Fair every year in July.

5. Grafton, Illinois

To give one example of a wildly successful free land program designed to entice new residents, the town of Grafton, Illinois, began offering residential lots for a deposit of $5,000 apiece. If you build a home on the lot within three years, the town will reimburse your $5,000, making the land itself totally free.

Of course, you still need to pay property taxes and construction costs, points out Michael Morrow, Mayor of Grafton. But, he adds, “it’s a beautiful subdivision, (with) a new grade school, new pickleball courts, and a lot of families with young kids.”

Unlike some small towns, Grafton has a lot to offer. Situated right by the Mississippi River with a quaint but thriving downtown area, it’s also conveniently located less than an hour from St. Louis and about four hours from Chicago, Kansas City, and Indianapolis, giving residents some big-city access to airports, hospitals, and more recreational and shopping alternatives.

6. Flagler, Colorado

For people interested in setting up a business, Flagler, Colorado, is located about two hours east of Denver and has 480 acres of free land zoned for commercial use. The purpose of Flagler’s free land incentive is to encourage economic development in the small town and create new jobs for the community.

Potential business owners are encouraged to apply and provide the following information:

  • A detailed business plan, including start-up costs and a timeline for completion
  • Three years of tax returns, financial records, and a credit application
  • The amount of land needed for the business

Once your initial application is approved, you’ll make a deposit of $10 per acre to move forward with the rest of the application process. There will then be a public hearing so the community can get involved, and the town council will make the final ruling.

Applicants should be aware that there is no infrastructure for utilities on the property, so the cost of on-site utilities will be the sole responsibility of whoever takes possession of the free land. These expenses should be included in your business plan, and you’ll also need to provide proof of funding for the project.

7. Lincoln, Kansas

One of the larger “small towns” that offer free land, Lincoln, Kansas, the county seat of Lincoln County, offers free land on ready-to-build lots for new residents or anyone looking to build a new home. Projects must have a footprint of 1,300 square feet for a single-story house or 900 square feet for two-story homes, and they must have a permanent foundation (no mobile homes) and a two-car garage to qualify for the free land program.

Lincoln is located in North Central Kansas, a couple of hours from Wichita, but the town itself has pretty much everything you need, including banks, a locally-owned grocery store, a pharmacy, a shopping center, and a movie theater, among many other essential services.

8. Manilla, Iowa

The Manilla Economic Development Corporation, in cooperation with the City of Manilla Municipal Utilities, is in the second phase of its free lot program, with 16 additional residential lots for single-family homes. The homestead land is part of the Sunrise Addition housing development and offers multiple perks for those looking to receive free land:

  • Excellent lot size and location
  • Paved streets
  • On-site utilities with no hookup fees
  • Five-year property tax abatements

Although the town population is under 800 people, this small town has all the essentials and plenty of recreational options, including a semi-private nine-hole golf course. It also has easy access to large cities, such as Omaha, Nebraska, which is close to an hour away, and Des Moines, Iowa, which is about a two-hour drive away.

9. Plainville, Kansas

The City of Plainville, Kansas, in Rooks County of northwestern Kansas, is offering free land for residential construction, but you’ll need to move quickly with your plans to take advantage of the program. Construction of a permanent home must be completed within 18 months after you take possession of the free land.

A $500 deposit is required, but it will be refunded at the time of closing, assuming the buyer has completed all terms of the contract. Buyers will also be responsible for bringing all utilities to the house, but the good news is that the infrastructure is already in place. As an added bonus to the free lots, the Rooks County Neighborhood Revitalization Plan allows for a rebate of property taxes on a sliding scale over a 10-year period.

Plainville is a little far from the nearest large city — Wichita is about 200 miles away — but it has the major amenities. The town of Hays (population 20,000) is also only 30 miles away, with even more services, dining, and shopping options.

10. New Richland, Minnesota

Located about an hour and a half from the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), New Richland, Minnesota, offers free lots to those who can have their home built within 12 months. However, while the land is completely free, there are some amenities you’ll be responsible for — including water, sewage, and street access— which will be collected with your property taxes on a semi-annual basis over a 15-year period.

Before you can begin the application process and acquire land, you’ll need to produce a pre-approval letter from a lender proving your ability to acquire funding for the project. According to the City of Richland website, some lenders will allow you to use the free land as equity for a down payment on a construction loan.

What to consider before you apply for free land

The idea of free or cheap land can be a powerful pull if you’re struggling to find affordable housing and looking to relocate. However, there are a few factors you should consider before packing up your moving van:

  • Job opportunities: Maybe you’re a freelancer or remote worker who can work from anywhere in the world. If you’re not, however, consider that many of the towns listed above are located in a rural region or are farming communities, so they’ll likely have fewer job opportunities for new residents.
  • Building costs: Even if you’re able to find free land, you’ll still need to cover the costs of building your new home or business on that land. That’s why it’s important to make sure you can secure the necessary funding before you apply for a free land program.
  • Taxes: Property taxes tend to be less expensive in areas offering free land — and some homestead programs offer tax incentives to new residents — but you should still be aware of the estimated taxes before you make a commitment.

Pro Tip

“It’s crucial to thoroughly research the terms, conditions, and obligations associated with each free land program. Local authorities, economic development agencies, or real estate experts can provide valuable information and guidance.” — Denis Smykalov, real estate broker at Wolsen Real Estate


Do states offer free land?

States themselves don’t offer free land for homes or businesses. Instead, it’s up to local governments of towns or cities to create free land programs. Having said that, you’re more likely to find homesteading land in certain states, such as Kansas, Nebraska, and Minnesota.

Is there unowned land in the U.S.?

With so much existing property across the country going unused, you might wonder if some of it isn’t actually owned by anyone. However, there is no longer any land in the United States that is unowned, simply uninhabited. Some of it is public land owned by a local government or the federal government, while the rest is private property that simply isn’t in use.

Key Takeaways

  • There are multiple opportunities to acquire plots of free land in the United States, most of which are offered in Midwestern states.
  • You’re most likely to find free land in rural communities that are attempting to entice new residents and businesses to increase the tax base and provide new jobs.
  • While the land itself is often technically free, there may be other costs associated with owning the land, such as administrative fees or property taxes.
  • It’s important to understand the rules of each free land program — such as construction regulations, timelines, and occupancy requirements — before you apply for free land.
View Article Sources
  1. Landmark Legislation: The Homestead Act of 1862 – United States Senate
  2. Urban Homestead Program – City of Buffalo
  3. Free Lots (Residential) – Lincoln, KS – The Lincoln County Economic Development Foundation
  4. Free Land in our Homestake Subdivision – The City of New Richland
  5. Free Land Incentive – Town of Flagler, Colorado
  6. Curtis NE, Incentive Program – City of Curtis
  7. Sunrise Addition Phase II – City of Manilla
  8. Free homesites – Rooks County
  9. Elwood Chamber of Commerce – Elwood, Nebraska
  10. Empty Lot Program – City of Claremont
  11. What Does Free and Clear Mean in Real Estate? – SuperMoney
  12. How to Finance Land – SuperMoney
  13. Should You Buy Undeveloped Land? Pros & Cons – SuperMoney
  14. Land Leases – SuperMoney