Towns hope $1 rent can save them
A home available for $1 a week through the Rent-A-Farmhouse program.
By Megan LeeLooking to rent a house in the country? It wouldn’t be unusual to come across an ad like this:
“Farm cottage three-bedroom, has kitchen, living, dishwasher…small paddock…enclosed verandah.”
It would be unusual to see such a rental for $1 a week.
And yet that’s exactly how much some properties are going for in struggling parts of rural Australia.
Its not fancy, but this $1-a-week farmhouse has working appliances, a wood-burning stove for heat, and plenty of …
All the renters have to do in return is send their children to local schools and fix up the houses or maintain the farmland.Rural Australian towns are offering this low-cost housing solution in the hope that young families will move to the country to help keep populations up and schools open, said Christine Weston, the woman behind the Rent-A-Farmhouse program.
“Country life still appeals to many families, but it doesn’t always make financial sense for them,” Weston told the Daily Telegraph. “We’re trying to change that.”
It can be hard to cover the daily costs of living in rural areas, where jobs tend to be more scarce. So by eliminating the burden of rent, program backers hope to pull more people out to the country to do vital work, as well as keep municipal services humming.
This farmhouse could use a little elbow grease.
According to the Rent-A-Farmhouse website, some of the available farmhouses need renovations, while others need a farm caretaker or extra sets of hands during the busy harvest season. Some just need a larger population of children to help keep the local school bus running.And some need all of those things, Weston said.
A 2008 pilot program in Cumnock, about a four-hour drive from Sydney, managed to entice 20 families move to the bush (as it’s called in Australia) with a mix of $1 properties — properties that needed work — and regular market-rate properties that went for about $100 to $300 a week. Three years later, nine of the families were still living in the area.
After Cumnock’s success, more than 20 other bush towns followed suit.
Now that the children from the initial run of $1 homes are aging out of the schools, it’s time for a new wave of residents, Weston said.
Farmers offered this house, in need of a family that could fix it up a bit, in 2008 for $1 a week. Pictured are …
She was inspired by projects including Renew Newcastle, in which a main street was revitalized by renting out empty shopfronts to artisans for a nominal fee until better-paying renters came along; and Evocities, which offered families $10,000 incentives to relocate from Sydney to one of seven other New South Wales cities.
It’s not just an Australian idea; Weston thinks the low-rent system “can be a worldwide approach for rural and regional regrowth and repopulation.”
She said international inquiries abound–from places as far flung as the United States, India and Ireland. Two years ago, a family moved from the Philippines to take advantage of the cost-effective housing. Canadian, Irish and Serbian companies have asked for advice on how to implement the same kind of program in rural areas of their own countries.
People really want to live in wide-open spaces, Weston said. It’s just a matter of making them economically feasible.
“Never believe all the young people are leaving and our towns are going backward,” Weston said. “You have the power to change that, if you have a strong community, a motivated team and an enthusiastic leader. Anything is possible with power of the positive.”
Marketing materials for the rent-a-farmhouse program include this shot of Christine Weston, with her twin sons, …
The kitchen inside this $1-a-week fixer-upper farmhouse includes a stove, an oven, a sink, a microwave and a d …
This is the view from the back fence for a family renting a farmhouse in Cumnock’s $1 rent program.