What’s a great way to get a young, thriving community to pop up in your town and revitalize an area? A little gentle monetary incentive, in the form of offers to pay off student loan debt for young residents moving into the town. Niagara Falls, N.Y. is just one such town trying to entice fresh-faced professionals to move in by paying off part of their debts.
In Niagara Falls, the campaign is being spearheaded by the new director of community development. Communities like his are concerned over shrinking, increasingly older populations, and are willing to try just about anything to get those happening kids to move to town.
“We’ve lost a lot of talent, a lot of brain power,” he says. “For 50 years we’ve been asking ourselves: how do we keep our young people?” The city’s population 50 years ago was 100,000 and it has now fallen to 50,000, causing its leaders to worry about losing certain forms of federal assistance.
The city is putting an initial $200,000 behind the idea. The first applications should arrive in the next couple of months, says Piccirillo, but “The graduating class of 2013 will be our first real swing at it.”
He came up with the idea by reading news headlines about how worrisome college debt is, and figured that young professionals is “the key to a modern economy.” Dangle the carrot of debt relief, and voila! New, young residents.
Under the plan, you must have earned a 2- or 4-year degree in the past two years, and can apply for up to $3,500 a year for two years toward repayment of student loans. Graduate students can also apply. Applicants will then have to rent or buy a home within a designated student area.
“We’re not talking city-wide. We’re taking acres,” he explains. “There’s no doubt in my mind that getting even 100 to 150 people could revitalize the neighborhood.”
Niagara Falls isn’t alone in this kind of venture: Over yonder in Kansas, 50 counties in the state are trying something similar with the Rural Opportunity Zones (ROZs) that offer new full-time residents either income tax waivers for up to five years and or/student loan repayments of up to $15,000.
The manager of that program says he’s received 338 applicants to date, 111 of which have been people from out of state. He’s now getting applications at the rate of one a day.
“Our hope was that we’d get young professionals to move,” he says. “Physicians, nurses, lawyers, accountants. And that’s what we have seen–health professionals, teachers, veterinarians, accountants and a surprising number of lawyers. Our hope in the beginning was to attract individuals who would have a disproportionate economic impact on a region.”
Student Loans: Cities Offering to Pay Debt to Gain Young Residents [Good Morning America]