How do rural communities attract more young people? It's a question almost as old as time, and one to which the community development corporation in Belfast, P.E.I., may potentially have an answer — make inexpensive land available for them to build on.
Especially in light of the province's recent recommendation that the school in Belfast be closed, the town is seeking new ways to grow its population beyond the estimated 1,680 people who live there now — with an emphasis on young couples or families. The school is operating at only 33 per cent capacity.
"There's very, very little land for sale that would be in the price range that a young family would be looking for," said Jim Kinnee, one of the corporation's directors.
Most of the land for sale in the area is waterfront property, Kinnee noted — "People are hoping they can maybe attract a rich American to come and buy some, so the prices are very high."
Young families can afford only to buy existing homes, he said, which simply maintains the population without growing it. "And our goal is to see if we can grow the population of the area," he said.
The corporation hopes to purchase vacant land toward the north end of the municipality and begin by creating five or six one-acre lots to sell to young families for just $5,000 to $6,000 — just enough to cover the corporation's costs to clear and survey the land.
New residents would be allowed to build modest homes or install pre-fabricated mini-homes, he said.
"We think that we're kind of a model community in lots of ways," Kinnee said. "We've got our own community rink, we have got a great school, we've developed our own recreational facilities … we've got everything you need for a community to be vibrant."
Belfast is also only about 20 minutes from Charlottetown on the Trans-Canada Highway, he points out. The community also has a nursing home that employs more than 100 people.
"We think that when we combine all of those things we can show people that Belfast is a very desirable place to live," Kinnee said.
'Live the rural lifestyle'
"If we can attract more school-age children and families to come and live the rural lifestyle, then it's going to build up the population in our school and it's going to help remove the threat," of the school closing, he said.
The community has to come up with a policy to prevent market speculation of the lots, he noted, and "we're not exactly sure how we're going to do that," Kinnee said.
Other rural communities in Canada have successfully used a similar method to community development, he said.
The community will soon hold public meetings to gather local support for the idea.
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