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Eric's Heroes: The landlord that gives free rent: 'It feels good to impact someone's life'

Grace Yang reacts after she found she was the winner for getting free rent for a year.

SEATTLE -- Rents are sky high in Seattle and landlords aren't exactly the most popular people in town, but Preston Walls has an idea that's changing lives.

He's offering free rent for a year through an essay writing contest at Walls Property Management in Ballard. There are a lot people struggling out there, and several candidates applied.

"Currently more than half my income goes to rent, and I live on South Beacon Hill," says Shawna Mokler. "So, this would definitely be helpful to me and my future career."

"I am living in my Dad's basement and on April 16th I will have two years clean," said Tiana Ryan.

I told Walls, who is the CEO of the company and a landlord, this isn't a very good business decision.

"It is not a good business decision, No." Walls said. "But, it's a way to give back to the community."

There would be not just one, but two winners of the free rent.

"It's really powerful, it feels really good to impact someone's life and give them an opportunity they didn't expect to have and be able to see what they can do with it," Walls said.

And so, two of them were invited back for another interview -- only there would be no interviews. Instead, they were told they had won.

First up was Mokler.

"Whoa! What? That's awesome!" she said at finding out the news. "I can't even describe how I am feeling. So awesome!"

Then came in Grace Yang, who is putting herself through grad school and supporting her parents, who don't speak English.

"We actually brought you in today to let you know you were awarded one of the free apartments," Yang was told...as she broke down in tears.

"I mean it's gonna help me start off everything," Yang said. "Support my parents, start my future, now that I'll be graduating from the UW in June, start my career as a medical social worker and maybe open my own practice one day to serve low income people of color."

Mokler was awarded an apartment in Magnolia, while Yang was given a place in Wallingford. They began to move in last Friday.

"It's very surreal to just move in here and see the space... it's really happening right now," Mokler said.

There are so many people working hard and pushing back against the pressures that can almost overwhelm a young person. And now two of them have a boost -- they can breathe a little bit. One year rent free is a chance to focus on those dreams that always seem to be just out of reach.

"It's just weird because I just finished my internship, I'm going to start my new job... I'm graduating," Yang said. "So this apartment is like a brand new slate in every single way."

Walls, the mastermind behind it all, says the tough times he has had, his knock-down drag out fights with leukemia, and then Hodgkin's lymphoma have shaped his sense of empathy.

"If there are any other landlords interested in contributing one of their units rent free for a year, I gladly would be willing to talk to them about it," he said.

Free rent for a year -- it's a terrible business move for a landlord to make, but a lovely gesture for a human being to make.

Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to heroes@komonews.com.

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