Isolated Australian town has ‘free’ land for volunteer home builders


MELBOURNE, Australia – Seen from the sky, the small hinterland town of Quilpie, Queensland appears to be in the middle of nowhere. It sits on dusty, rusty earth. Twenty kangaroos sometimes settle on the school lawn. Summer temperatures can reach 113 degrees. The nearest town is a 10 hour drive away.

But Quilpie suddenly found herself the object of global lust recently when she unveiled a plan to tackle the housing shortage and attract new residents by offering “free” plots.

Officials initially had a modest vision, hoping that five new houses would be built in the city of 575 residents. But in the two weeks since the word got out on October 11 via local media, Quilpie has received more than 300 inquiries, officials said, including from as far away as Hong Kong and the ‘Europe.

The flood of inquiries from at home and abroad is a testament to the desperation of Australians over fears that home ownership will become increasingly inaccessible and the global affordable housing crisis.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Justin Hancock, CEO of the Quilpie Shire Council, which proposed the plan, of the interest the program has generated. “Some people call just because they heard ‘the free land’.”

Yes, there is fine print: New owners would have to pay $ 12,500 up front for a piece of land – but if they built a house there and lived there for more than six months, they would receive a refund on the value of the land. .

Hancock’s idea is a fusion of two forces seen around the world: the need to find affordable housing and the pressure from small towns or declining towns to grow or breathe new life into their communities.

Some quaint towns and villages in Italy have made international headlines, offering dilapidated houses for just 1 euro in an attempt to revitalize. The town of Gary, Indiana, also sold abandoned homes for $ 1 to those willing to fix them.

In Australia, two of the largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, are also two of the most expensive housing markets in the world. House prices have skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, increasing 11 times faster than wage growth over the past year, according to an analysis by CoreLogic, a real estate data company. The median price of homes in Sydney is $ 1.3 million.

Quilpie, which is 543 miles west of Brisbane and whose primary industries are farming and mining, has struggled to build homes due to a combination of factors. Banks require higher deposits on mortgages in the Australian region than in cities, and the region has experienced a shortage of traders, according to Hancock.

Hancock said he had developed a housing plan to address the shortage. While he doesn’t expect the 300 inquiries to translate into plots of land sold, he estimates that 15-20 buyers are seriously considering the offer.

Because the pandemic is not over – Queensland’s borders are closed to other Australians and international visitors are not allowed to enter the country – potential buyers may have to wait a few months to visit the city.

But for those planning a move to Quilpie, the town offers a free pool, 24-hour gym, two grocery stores, and a lake. It is known for its opal mines and the bones of some of Australia’s largest dinosaurs have been unearthed around its outskirts. Cultural events take place almost every weekend, Hancock said, including “opera in the outback,” horse races and triathlons.

Robina Meehan, 41, made an offer on one of the plots before even knowing the refund because, she said, “even $ 12,500 seemed too good not to be accepted.”

There is a freedom and self-sufficiency to living in a rural town that you can’t find in the city, Meehan said.

“Here you can make a hole, light a fire, kill a cow to eat it,” she said. “While in town you can’t do any of that. You can just plant a little garden full of lettuce.”

Meehan moved to Quilpie with her husband and two children 18 months ago from their farm in New South Wales. It was supposed to be temporary, but became longer term after many cities were quarantined.

“Getting here costs money, and maybe your shopping costs more because of inflation,” she added. “But life is so simple. Life is so simple.”

Tom Hennessy, 24, who recently bought land with his fiancee, Tessa McDougall, said: “There’s nowhere you’d rather raise a child and have a family. It’s quiet. knows. If something is wrong, half the city will raise their hands to help. “

Referring to his friends who rent in the cities, he said: “It kind of gives the impression that we are going to be one step ahead of our friends the same age as us who probably won’t be able to own theirs. own house. for a while. “

Locals aren’t the only creatures who find Quilpie attractive, he said; wildlife often roams the city.

“There are kangaroos and emus everywhere,” he said. “At the school where Tessa teaches, I think there were 20 people who lived on the lawn. “


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